Gastroparesis is a disease in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal way. It is a condition that affects normal spontaneous movement of the muscles (motility) on the stomach.
Usually, strong muscular contractions propel food through the digestive tract. But if a person has gastroparesis, their stomach’s motility is slowed down or doesn’t work at all, preventing the stomach from emptying properly.
Gastroparesis can interfere with normal digestion, cause nausea and vomiting, and cause problems with blood sugar levels and nutrition. The cause of gastroparesis is usually unknown. Sometimes it’s a complication of diabetes, and some people develop gastroparesis after surgery.
If a person has gastroparesis signs and symptoms include;
- Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Upset stomach
- Throwing up undigested food
- A feeling of fullness quickly when they eat
- Lack of appetite and weight loss
- Trouble controlling blood sugar
- Belly pain
Gastroparesis is caused by nerve injury, including damage to the vagus nerve. In its normal state, the vagus nerve contracts (tightens) the stomach muscles to help move food through the digestive tract.
In cases of gastroparesis, the vagus nerve is damaged by diabetes. This prevents the muscle of the stomach and intestine from working properly, which keeps food from moving from the stomach to the intestine.
Doctors use several tests to help diagnose gastroparesis and rule out conditions that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include;
- Gastric Emptying Study – this is the most important test used in making a diagnosis of gastroparesis. It involves eating a light meal, such as eggs and toast, that contains a small amount of radioactive material. A scanner that detects the movement of the radioactive material is placed over the patient’s abdomen to monitor the rate at which food leaves the patient’s stomach.
- Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Endoscopy – this procedure is used to visually examine the upper digestive system — the esophagus, stomach and beginning of the small intestine (duodenum) — with a tiny camera on the end of a long, flexible tube. This test can also diagnose other conditions, such as peptic ulcer disease or pyloric stenosis, which can have symptoms similar to those of gastroparesis.
- Ultrasound – this test uses high-frequency sound waves to produce images of structures within the body. Ultrasound can help diagnose whether problems with the gallbladder or the kidneys could be causing the symptoms.
- Upper Gastrointestinal Series – this is a series of X-rays in which the patient drinks a white, chalky liquid (barium) that coats the digestive system to help abnormalities show up.
Depending on the cause, gastroparesis can be chronic, which means it lasts a long time. The patient can take steps to manage and control it.
- Changing diet that fits those who are diagnosed with gastroparesis
- Eating six small meals each day rather than three larger ones. This way, the patient will have less food in their stomach and don’t feel as full.
- Have more liquids and low-residue foods, such as applesauce instead of whole apples. Drink plenty of water and fluids like low-fat broths, soups, juices, and sports drinks.
- Avoid high-fat foods, which can slow digestion, and high-fiber foods, which are harder to digest.
- Medications – the doctor might give the patient medications such as;
- Metoclopramide (Reglan)
- Surgical Treatment – Some people with gastroparesis may be unable to tolerate any food or liquids. In these situations, doctors may recommend a feeding tube (jejunostomy tube) be placed in the small intestine. Or doctors may recommend a gastric venting tube to help relieve pressure from gastric contents.
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