Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach muscles do not function properly. When food moves into the stomach, muscles contract and relax to break down the food before it passes into the small intestine. If the stomach muscles do not work correctly, food does not move on to the small intestine, causing problems with digestion. Types of gastroparesis include idiopathic and diabetic. Sometimes gastroparesis may get better on its own but more often it is a lifelong condition (chronic).
Symptoms of gastroparesis include vomiting, nausea, feeling full after just a few bites, bloating, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, malnutrition, and changes in blood sugar levels. Complications include severe dehydration, malnutrition, and blood sugar fluctuations. The cause of gastroparesis is not clear, but seems to involve damage to the nerve that controls stomach muscles (the vagus nerve).
Risk factors include diabetes, abdominal or esophageal surgery, radiation therapy, infection, narcotic pain medications, and hypothyroidism (low thyroid function). Certain conditions such as Ehlers Danlos syndrome, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, scleroderma, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson disease also increase a person’s risk. Idiopathic gastroparesis is more likely to affect young and middle aged women.
Diagnosis may include and upper GI scan, MRI, CT scan, special breath test, stomach emptying test and/or an endoscopy. There is no cure for gastroparesis and the treatments may not help everyone. Treatments may include diet changes, medication, and/or devices or procedures that help move the digested food through the stomach and controlling underlying causes. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with gastroparesis, talk to your doctor and specialists about the most current treatment options. Support groups are a good source for information and will help connect you with others living with gastroparesis.