Gastroparesis, literally meaning paralyzed stomach, is a mysterious stomach disorder that is slowly gaining more attention as cases of it are on the rise. It’s a stomach disorder that is defined by slow digestion and the stomach not emptying properly. After eating a meal, the muscles of the stomach contract to move the food through your digestive tract. Patients with gastroparesis have slowed stomach motility and in some cases the stomach’s motility doesn’t work at all. August is the month designated to spread awareness for a disease that many may have never even heard of!
What causes gastroparesis?
While many cases of gastroparesis are “idiopathic” meaning the cause is unknown, there are a handful of factors that potentially increase your risk for it such as:
· Surgeries (abdominal/ esophageal surgery)
· Certain medications
· Other illnesses (systemic illness, neurological, connective disorders)
· Cellular changes
Determining what brought on gastroparesis is often tricky. It is believed that damage to the vagus nerve (the nerve that controls the stomach muscles) plays a role. If the nerve is damaged and can’t send out signals that food is in the stomach and needs to be digested, the food can remain undigested in the stomach longer instead of moving through the digestive tract.
Symptoms that often occur during and after eating meals and include:
· Vomiting (vomiting undigested food)
· Feeling of fullness after only a few bites
· Acid reflux
· Changes in blood sugar
· Lack of appetite
· Weight loss/ malnutrition
How is gastroparesis diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects gastroparesis, they will order a test to be done that measures how fast your stomach empties to confirm the diagnosis. The gastric emptying study consists of eating a light meal such as eggs and toast which contains a tiny amount of radioactive material. After, your abdomen will be monitored by a scanner to measure the rate at which the food leaves your stomach. Other tests used could be an upper endoscopy, to look at the upper digestive system.
Unfortunately, at this time there is no cure for gastroparesis. The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms through:
o Eat small meals and more frequently
o Chew food well
o Don’t lay down within 2 hours after eating
o Avoid fibrous fruits and vegetables
o Pick low fat foods
o Drink 1-1.5 liters of water a day
Gastroparesis patients can meet with dieticians to get a better idea of what foods are best for them to eat so they get the nutrients and feel as good as possible.
o Stimulate the stomach muscles
o Control nausea and vomiting
o For patients unable to tolerate any foods/liquids, a feeding tube placed in the small intestine may be necessary.
Gastroparesis is being researched and clinical trials are being done to find new medications and possible treatments. Spreading the word and educating more and more people is important for this mysterious gastrointestinal illness!