Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying, is a medical condition that causes the movement of food to slow down or stop, as it moves from the stomach to the small intestine. The stomach muscles do not function properly and the stomach's ability to empty is reduced. As a result, people with gastroparesis are at risk for dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition.
Causes of Gastroparesis
The exact cause of gastroparesis is unknown, however, it may occur as a result of damage to the vagus nerve, the nerve that is responsible for communication between the brain and the digestive tract. The vagus nerve monitors and initiates the digestive process. Damage to the vagus nerve either by illness or injury prevents the normal functioning of the stomach. Conditions that may contribute to the development of gastroparesis may include:
- Complications of diabetes
- Anorexia nervosa
- Parkinson's disease
- Complications of abdominal surgery
Use of medications that block certain nerve signals, such as narcotic pain medications and antidepressants, may also cause gastroparesis.
Symptoms of Gastroparesis
People with gastroparesis may experience the following symptoms, and they be mild or severe:
- Abdominal pain and bloating
- Vomiting undigested food
- Gastrointestinal reflux (GERD)
- Abdominal spasms
Symptoms of gastroparesis usually occur a few hours after eating. In addition to the above symptoms, a loss of appetite and an unintentional weight loss may also be symptoms of gastroparesis.
Diagnosis of Gastroparesis
After a review of symptoms and a physical examination, the following tests may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis of gastroparesis:
- Upper gastrointestinal endoscopy
- Upper gastrointestinal series
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Capsule endoscopy
A gastric emptying study may also be conducted. This test measures the amount of time it takes for food to move through the stomach.
Treatment of Gastroparesis
There is no cure for gastroparesis. Treatment focuses on managing the condition and controlling symptoms. Dietary changes such as eating smaller, more frequent meals and a diet composed of low-fiber and low-fat foods can help alleviate the digestion process and minimize symptoms. Medications may be helpful to control nausea and vomiting and to stimulate the stomach muscles. BOTOX® injectable may be injected into the stomach to relax the pyloric muscle, allowing the stomach to release more food into the small intestine. Surgery may be performed to help improve stomach emptying, if gastroparesis has not responded to prior treatments.