Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying, is a disorder that does not allow the stomach to completely empty itself in a normal manner. The stomach either slows down or stops the movement of food, which is then not able to pass on to the small intestine.
Healthy stomachs move and contract to help break down and digest food, moving it through the digestive tract as hormones and enzymes are released to process the food. Gastroparesis can be caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which directs the stomach to contract.
Although it is sometimes diagnosed as idiopathic (meaning there is no clearly identifiable cause), gastroparesis does have a strong link to diabetes. It is thought that the uncontrolled blood sugar levels may be the cause of vagus nerve damage. It can also occur when a patient has undergone gastric surgery and suffered nerve damage as a result; as well as with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease and other, rarer conditions. Whatever the underlying cause, the symptoms of gastroparesis need to be evaluated and treated by a qualified physician.
Symptoms of Gastroparesis
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Acid Reflux
- Feeling full after eating only a small amount of food
- Vomiting undigested food
- Chronic heartburn
- Weight loss
- Uncontrolled or poorly controlled blood sugar levels
Diagnosis and Testing
If your doctor suspects gastroparesis, he or she will probably order a series of tests, including ones that measure how long it takes for your stomach to empty. They may also order an upper GI scope, an ultrasound, gastric manometry (which measures the electrical signals and muscular movement of the stomach walls) and other radiological tests such as a barium X-ray. Gastroparesis is a serious disorder that requires ongoing treatment such as antiemetics, which control nausea and medications that encourage the stomach to contract. Your doctor will also advise you as to any necessary lifestyle and diet changes that are necessary to help control the disease.
Many patients find that they do better, for instance, by eating much smaller, more frequent meals. Avoiding fatty meals or bulky foods heavy in fiber may also be helpful. Complications from the disorder can include food fermentation (food is delayed and remains in the stomach too long, encouraging the growth of bacteria), the formation of a bezoar (a solid collection of food materials that harden and can obstruct the bowel), uncontrolled blood sugar levels (caused by the delay of food moving into the small intestine) and other issues related to weight loss and malnourishment. There is currently no cure for gastroparesis, but treatment options can yield very positive results.
If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with gastroparesis or want more information about the disorder from one of our board-certified radiologists in the Wellington, Belle Glade, Lake Worth or Royal Palm Beach areas, please call (561) 795-5558, or request an appointment online today. We are here to help.