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What is Gastroparesis?

When digesting food, your stomach usually contracts in a coordinated manner to break down the food and move it throughout the digestive tract. Gastroparesis occurs when your stomach contractions are too weak or uncoordinated. As a result, your stomach fails to properly empty and retains partially digested food. Even if you have regular bowel movements, if your intestinal tract isn’t emptying properly, your colon will become more backed up with stool over time. This can cause several GI complications including dehydration, malnutrition, and unstable blood sugar levels. 

Risk factors for gastroparesis include:

  • Certain medications (such as narcotics)
  • Viral infections 
  • Abdominal/ esophageal surgery
  • Connective tissue diseases
  • Nervous system diseases
  • Hypothyroidism 
  • Diabetes

What Causes Gastroparesis?

Although not always the case, the most common cause of gastroparesis is damage to the vagus nerve, due to diabetes, autoimmune conditions, or surgery. The vagus nerve controls your stomach contractions, so destruction or damage to this nerve can lead to digestion dysfunction. 

Gastroparesis can also be caused by acute infection. In some patients, doctors are unable to determine a specific underlying cause for gastroparesis. 

Some medications can delay gastric emptying or worsen gastroparesis symptoms, including:

  • Narcotic pain medications
  • Some antidepressants
  • Some anticholinergics (medications that block certain nerve signals)
  • Blood pressure medications

What are the Symptoms of Gastroparesis?

The most common symptom of gastroparesis is feeling full after just starting a meal/eating very little. Other symptoms may include:

  • Bloating
  • Constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Heartburn
  • Weight loss
  • Malnutrition
  • Unregulated blood sugar

Symptoms can be continuous and recurring.

How is Gastroparesis Diagnosed?

There are various ways a gastroenterologist can diagnose gastroparesis. An upper GI endoscopy (an EGD) allows the doctor to see your throat and stomach to check for abnormalities. A gastric emptying study can also be done to see how long it takes for the stomach to empty its contents.

What is the Treatment for Gastroparesis?

Although there is no cure for gastroparesis, there are various medications and lifestyle changes that can help provide gastroparesis relief.

Diet plays a major role in treating gastroparesis. By eating smaller, more frequent meals, along with reducing food that is harder to digest (fatty and fibrous foods), you can ease the digestion process for your body, avoid gastroparesis flare-ups, and ensure that you receive enough nutrients to stay healthy. It is also advisable to avoid alcohol with gastroparesis, as alcohol can cause delayed gastric emptying, dehydration, and constipation. Consult with your GI doctor to create the best gastroparesis treatment diet that works for you.

Medications are also available to help your stomach contract and move along the digestive tract.

In severe cases, a feeding tube may be necessary to ensure that proper nutrients are being delivered to the body, and surgery involving bypassing the lower part of the stomach to allow the body to empty its contents could be considered.

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