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What is gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a disorder that affects the movement of food between the stomach and the small intestine. The muscles surrounding the gastrointestinal tract constrict and relax to move food away from the stomach. However, when someone has gastroparesis, the muscles do not function properly, which results in slow or no transportation of the food. When the stomach is not allowed to empty properly, this condition may disrupt the digestion of food, cause nausea, or elevate sugar levels within the blood system.

What causes gastroparesis?

The causes of gastroparesis are not always clear. Doctors have noted the connection between damage to the vagus nerve and this disorder. Surgical complications are a common cause of this damage. High levels of glucose in the bloodstream can also cause damage to the vagus nerve causing diabetic gastroparesis (DG). When doctors are unable to discern the cause, they diagnose it as idiopathic gastroparesis (IG).

What are the symptoms of gastroparesis?

Common symptoms of gastroparesis are nausea and vomiting. Many will also feel full despite consuming a relatively small amount of food. Abdominal pain and bloating are frequent symptoms. In some cases, acid reflux and a lack of appetite are present. Due to the somewhat vague nature of the symptoms, gastroparesis is frequently undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Also, the same individual may experience symptoms differently over time or with different types of food, which also contributes to the difficulties in diagnosing.

How is gastroparesis diagnosed?

Gastroparesis can be diagnosed through a variety of tests and procedures. Each test is trying to determine how long it takes food to vacate the stomach. Upper gastrointestinal x-rays with the use of barium are one of the less invasive diagnostic procedures. CT and MR enterography (MRI with contrast dyes) procedures are more sophisticated versions of the same concept. Another less invasive option is the breath test. Patients drink a small amount of sugar water before a machine similar to a breathalyzer is used to test the amount of gas metabolized by the body in a given amount of time. Other tests are more invasive. An upper gastrointestinal endoscopy involves a flexible hose being inserted to visually observe the stomach contents. A gastric emptying study involves the introduction of radioactive material and a scanner to determine the progress of food material through the system.

How is gastroparesis treated?

There is no treatment that will cure gastroparesis. It is usually a chronic condition that may go into periods of remission and relapse. However, treating the symptoms does allow people to better manage their disease. Changes to diet and lifestyle can have profound effects on the symptoms. Eating smaller portions and limiting fats, greases, and carbonated beverages have all shown beneficial outcomes. Medications are available to help stimulate the stomach muscles involved in food movement as well as to control nausea and vomiting. In the most severe cases, a feeding tube may be inserted to help alleviate the pressure caused by the lodged foods.

Where can I find more information about gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis Articles