Gastroparesis is a condition in which the muscles in your stomach don't function normally.
Ordinarily, strong muscular contractions propel food through your digestive tract. But in gastroparesis, the muscles in the wall of your stomach work poorly or not at all. This prevents your stomach from emptying properly. Gastroparesis can interfere with digestion, cause nausea and vomiting, and play havoc with blood sugar levels and nutrition.
There is no cure for gastroparesis. Making changes to your diet may help you cope with gastroparesis signs and symptoms, but that's not always enough. Gastroparesis medications may offer some relief, but some can cause serious side effects.
Signs and symptoms of gastroparesis include:
When to see a doctor
It's not always clear what leads to gastroparesis. But in many cases, gastroparesis is believed to be caused by damage to a nerve that controls the stomach muscles (vagus nerve).
The vagus nerve helps manage the complex processes in your digestive tract, including signaling the muscles in your stomach to contract and push food into the small intestine. A damaged vagus nerve can't send signals to your stomach muscles. This may cause food to remain in your stomach longer, rather than move normally into your small intestine to be digested.
The vagus nerve can be damaged by diseases, such as diabetes, or by surgery to the stomach or small intestine.
Stomach and pyloric valve
Your stomach is a muscular sac about the size of a small melon that expands when you eat or drink to hold as much as a gallon of food or liquid. Once your stomach pulverizes the food, strong muscular ...
Factors that can make it difficult for your stomach to empty properly include:
Gastroparesis can cause several complications, such as:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by first seeing your family doctor or a general practitioner. If your doctor suspects you may have gastroparesis, you may be referred to a doctor who specializes in digestive diseases (gastroenterologist). You may also be referred to a dietitian who can help you choose foods that are easier to digest.
What you can do
Questions to ask
In addition to the questions that you've prepared, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment at any time that you don't understand something.
Tests and diagnosis
Doctors use several tests to help diagnose gastroparesis and rule out conditions that may cause similar symptoms. Tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
Treating gastroparesis begins with identifying and treating the underlying condition. For instance, if diabetes is causing your gastroparesis, your doctor will work to help you control your diabetes. Beyond this, other gastroparesis treatments may include:
Changes to your diet
Some people with gastroparesis may be unable to tolerate any food or liquids. In these situations, doctors may recommend a feeding tube (jejunostomy tube) be placed in the small intestine.
Feeding tubes can be passed through your nose or mouth or directly into your small intestine through your skin. The tube is usually temporary and is only used when gastroparesis is severe or when blood sugar levels can't be controlled by any other method.
Last Updated: 2009-11-21
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