Gastroparesis is a disorder that affects the digestive system. During normal digestion, the stomach breaks down food and then contracts to push food down to the small intestine. With gastroparesis, there is delayed emptying of the stomach. Food either moves slowly through the digestive tract or does not move at all. This can pose problems since the food can harden causing blockage, nausea, and vomiting. Bacteria can also start to grow. Gastroparesis is a potentially serious condition. It requires care from your doctor.
Movement of food in the digestive system is controlled by the vagus nerve. Gastroparesis occurs when this nerve is damaged and the muscles of the stomach do not work properly.
The main risk factor is diabetes. Diabetes can damage the vagus nerve, which may lead to gastroparesis. High blood sugar can also damage blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to the vagus nerve, preventing it from working properly. Other risk factors include:
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Surgery that involves the stomach or vagus nerve
- Taking certain medications, such as anticholinergics or narcotics
- Infection from a virus
- Diseases affecting the nerves, muscles, or hormones
- Diseases affecting metabolism (body’s ability to make and use energy)
- Chronic disease
- Anorexia or bulimia
- Radiation or chemotherapy
- Tobacco use
- Alcohol use
If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to gastroparesis. These symptoms may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
- Feeling full early during a meal
- No appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain in your abdomen or esophagus (the muscular tube that carries food from your mouth to your stomach)
- Weight loss
The following may worsen symptoms:
- High-fiber foods, like raw vegetables and fruits
- Fatty foods
- Carbonated drinks
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. The doctor may do:
- Blood tests
Tests to measure:
- Stomach volume before and after a meal
- The rate at which the stomach empties
- The ability of the muscles in the stomach and small intestine to contract and relax
- Imaging tests can assess the stomach and surrounding structures:
- Upper endoscopy—a thin, lighted tube inserted down the throat to examine the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine
- SmartPill—a pill-sized device that is swallowed to capture information on the digestive system
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:
Managing what you eat can help control gastroparesis. You may work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to create a meal plan that is right for you. This may include:
- Eating small meals several times throughout the day
- Following a liquid diet
- Limiting high-fat and high-fiber foods
In severe cases, you may need to have nutrients delivered directly to your intestines (skipping the stomach) or directly to your bloodstream. Feeding tubes may be inserted down your throat or through your abdomen and into your intestines to help deliver food. Nutrients may also be given through a thin tube that is placed in one of your veins.
You may be given medications that treat your symptoms and help your stomach empty. These medications work by stimulating the stomach muscles to contract. Examples include:
Other medications may be prescribed to reduce nausea.
In severe cases, your doctor may consider surgery. This may include removing part of the stomach.
To help reduce your chance gastroparesis:
- Control diabetes—Since diabetes is a common risk factor for gastroparesis, it is important that you follow treatment plans from your doctor if you have diabetes.
- Avoid medications that delay gastric emptying—Some medications may keep your stomach from emptying properly. These include narcotic pain medications, calcium channel blockers, and some antidepressants. Keep a list of all the medications you are taking and share this list with your doctor. Make sure you talk to your doctor before stopping any medications.
- Reviewer: Michael Woods, MD
- Review Date: 02/2015 -
- Update Date: 06/03/2013 -