02 Aug Gastroparesis: What You Need to Know
One of rarest but most serious gastrointestinal problems, gastroparesis exists largely outside of our daily thoughts. August is National Gastroparesis Awareness Month, so we’re bringing you awareness in an in-depth look at this disorder.
Gastroparesis affects a very small portion of the population. According to the National Library of Medicine, only 0.02% of the population is afflicted—and patients who have actually been diagnosed only touches 24 out of 100,000 people.
What is gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a disorder that occurs when the stomach takes too long to empty food. This disorder leads to a variety of symptoms that can include nausea, vomiting, feeling easily full, and a slow emptying of the stomach, known as delayed gastric emptying.
Gastroparesis can be due to a variety of issues. There’s no known cure for gastroparesis, but medical treatment can help you manage your symptoms. Here’s what you need to know.
What are the symptoms of gastroparesis?
The symptoms of gastroparesis can range from mild to severe. They occur more often in some people than others.
- upper abdominal pain
- loss of appetite
- feeling full
- unintended weight loss
What causes gastroparesis?
While the exact cause of gastroparesis isn’t known, it’s thought to have something to do with disrupted nerve signals in the stomach.
It’s believed that when the nerves to the stomach become affected by a variety of factors, food can move through it too slowly.
Most types of gastroparesis fit into one of these categories:
- idiopathic, or unknown
Surgeries that involve the stomach or other digestive organs can also change signals to the stomach. About 13 percent of people with gastroparesis have the type known as postsurgical.
Who’s at risk for developing gastroparesis?
- viral infections
- some cancers
- cystic fibrosis
- Parkinson’s disease
- autoimmune diseases
- amyloidosis, a condition that causes an abnormal protein buildup in organs
- medications that make the stomach empty more slowly
- thyroid disorders
What are the complications of gastroparesis?
- electrolyte imbalances
- decreased blood pressure
- increased heartbeat
- rapid breathing
- decreased urine output
- a weakened immune system
- poor wound healing
- muscle weakness
Since gastroparesis causes food to stay in the stomach for too long, it can also cause an overgrowth of bacteria. The food can also harden into masses called bezoars that cause nausea, vomiting, and obstruction in the stomach.
Managing blood glucose levels is essential for people with diabetes. Gastroparesis can make it harder to manage those levels.
- metoclopramide (Reglan)
- erythromycin (EES)
- domperidone (Motilin)
However, these drugs can cause side effects. Talk with your doctor to weigh the pros and cons of each medication to find out which one is right for you.
How is gastroparesis diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. In order to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, your doctor will probably want to run some tests. These might include:
Ultrasounds use sound waves to create an image of your organs. It can be used to rule out liver disease, pancreatitis, and gallbladder disease.
Blood tests can check for diabetes and other conditions.
An upper endoscopy
In an upper endoscopy procedure, your doctor guides a long, thin scope down your esophagus and into your stomach to check for blockages in the stomach and other conditions.
Gastric emptying scintigraphy test
A gastric emptying scan involves eating a small amount of food with a harmless radioactive substance so your doctor can see how fast food is being digested and emptied from your stomach.
A SmartPill is a capsule that contains a device to track how fast food moves through your digestive tract.
Carbon breath test
In this test, carbon dioxide production is tracked through the digestive system.
How is gastroparesis treated?
If your gastroparesis is caused by a condition like diabetes, the first step is to improve control of that underlying condition. After that, your doctor may recommend medications, diet changes, and even surgery in some cases.
Medications to control nausea and vomiting caused by gastroparesis can include:
- prochlorperazine (Compro)
- ondansetron (Zofran)
- promethazine (Phenergan)
If your malnutrition or vomiting remains an issue even with the use of medications, your doctor may decide surgery is necessary. The goal of surgery for gastroparesis is to help your stomach empty more effectively.
A stomach stimulator known as a GES (gastric electrical stimulator) can be implanted into the stomach. This device is FDA-approved for use if medications don’t work.
One study of 33 people showed that in the first year after this surgery, up to 97 percent of people with a GES have less nausea and vomiting and are able to gain weight. The device may also improve life expectancy related to gastroparesis.
Seeing a dietitian is a common part of treatment for gastroparesis. A dietitian can suggest foods that your body can digest more easily, allowing your body to absorb more nutrients.
- eating four to six meals per day
- drinking high-calorie liquids
- limiting alcohol and carbonated beverages
- taking a daily multivitamin, if tolerated
- limiting certain meats and dairy
- eating well-cooked vegetables and fruit to lower the amount of fiber they contain
- eating mostly low-fat foods
- avoiding high-fiber foods, like broccoli and oranges
- not lying down for bed immediately after a meal
- substituting solid foods for puréed or liquid foods
A change in diet could be preferable to taking medication, as medicine tends to have undesirable side effects. If you have a severe case of gastroparesis, you might not be able to eat solid foods and drink liquids. In this case, you may need a feeding tube until your condition improves.
Frequently Asked Questions about
What is the life expectancy for someone with gastroparesis?
Though gastroparesis is not a life threatening condition, it can cause serious complications, including malnutrition and dehydration.
However, if symptoms are managed effectively, people with gastroparesis can expect to have a normal life expectancy.
How should I handle a flare-up of gastroparesis?
Making changes to your diet and lifestyle is an effective way to manage symptoms of gastroparesis.
Eating several smaller meals per day, limiting foods that are hard to digest, and swapping solid foods for liquid or pureed ingredients can all be beneficial.
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help control symptoms like nausea or vomiting during a flare-up.
What are the symptoms of slow digestion?
Gastrointestinal issues like nausea, vomiting, bloating, and stomach pain are some of the most common symptoms of slow digestion.
Other symptoms may include loss of appetite, unintentional weight loss, or feeling full after eating only a small amount.
Can gastroparesis go away?
Gastroparesis is a chronic condition and there is currently no known cure.
However, symptoms can be managed effectively for many people using a combination of treatments, including medications, surgical procedures, and diet and lifestyle changes.
What foods should you avoid if you have gastroparesis?
People with gastroparesis should limit their intake of hard-to-digest foods to help reduce symptoms.
This includes foods high in fiber, such as raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
You should also limit fried foods, high-fat meat and dairy products, alcohol, and carbonated beverages to help manage symptoms.