Gastroparesis is simply a weak stomach; if you break the word apart, that is exactly what you get—gastro meaning stomach and paresis meaning impaired movement. The result of this weak stomach is delayed emptying of the stomach’s contents. It sounds very serious, but is rather easily treatable. However, recognizing the symptoms is the key to getting this treatment. This part can be difficult because a lot of the symptoms can be attributed to other health problems. The best thing you can do, if you notice any of the symptoms and suspect gastroparesis is the cause, is check with a doctor and he or she will proceed with the appropriate tests. Read this article to know what to look for.
Causes of Gastroparesis
Gastroparesis happens when the nerves in the stomach stop working or are damaged in some other way to the point when they noticeably slow in functioning. The vagus nerve, or the one that controls the muscles of the stomach and intestines, is the nerve that this damage is specifically referring to. The result: the movement of food through the stomach is severely delayed or stopped altogether. Diabetics can have a problem with gastroparesis because high blood sugar, over a long period of time, can affect this nerve in a roundabout way. The high level of sugar causes chemical changes in the nerves that damage the vessels delivering nutrients to the vagus nerve. Scars in the stomach and certain drugs can be a cause. Anorexia or bulimia, fairly common eating disorders, can cause damage to the nerve. Abdominal surgery can make it difficult for the stomach to empty properly. However, in many cases, the cause is not known.
Symptoms of Gastroparesis
The stomach works by collecting swallowed food and liquid in the upper portion of the stomach (the fundus); in the second part of the stomach, called the antrum, food is grinded, churned, and broken into small enough fragments that they can reach the small intestine. In order to perform these movements, an electrical wave causes the muscles in the upper portion to contract; this same wave sweeps all the way down into the lower portion, causing the grinding and other movements. During gastroparesis, the electrical wave is released slower than usual, causing the stomach to contract a lot less frequently than normal.
As you will see, many of these symptoms are common with other health conditions. Heartburn, weight loss or weight gain, abdominal pain and bloating, abdominal discomfort, fluctuating blood glucose levels, lack of appetite, feeling full after a couple bits of food, indigestion that tends to recur, stomach spasms (they occur in the stomach wall), belching, nausea, vomiting, and the slow movement of food through the digestive tract.
Treating and Managing Gastroparesis
While treatable, this condition is not necessarily curable. If the cause is known, it is important to treat the underlying medical condition, if that is indeed the culprit. For example, controlling blood sugar levels can prevent damage to the vagus nerve. If the gastroparesis is more severe, it may be necessary to change the diet. This would include avoiding high fat foods because they take more time to empty from the stomach; reducing fiber intake because these foods will stay in the stomach longer than other nutrients present in foods; avoiding drinks high in carbonation because they can make the symptoms more severe; eating more liquid foods, including smoothies, milkshakes, and protein drinks; eat 4-6 small meals throughout the day. There are medications that can be taken to allow the stomach to contract its muscles more normally. The medicine should be taken 20-40 minutes before eating to allow enough time for the blood to enter the blood stream.