What is gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a condition where symptoms occur and the stomach empties too slowly. No blockage is evident. The delayed emptying is confirmed by a test.
How common is gastroparesis?
While the incidence and prevalence of gastroparesis are not well-defined, it is estimated to affect up to 5 million individuals in the United States.
What are the signs and symptoms of gastroparesis?
Symptoms usually occur during and after eating a meal. Typical symptoms include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Retching (dry heaves)
- Stomach fullness after a normal sized meal
- Early fullness (satiety) – unable to finish a meal
There may also be bloating, heartburn, and stomach discomfort or pain. Decreased appetite may result in weight loss.
What causes gastroparesis?
Most often in people with gastroparesis, the cause is unknown and is termed “idiopathic.” Symptoms may begin following a virus infection. Other possible causes include diabetes, surgeries, some medications, and other illnesses.
How do I know if I have gastroparesis?
Diagnosis is by a doctor who will perform a physical exam and some tests. Tell your doctor about any medications you are taking. If the doctor suspects gastroparesis, a test to measure how fast the stomach empties is needed to confirm the diagnosis.
How is gastroparesis treated?
Treatments are aimed at managing symptoms over a long-term. This involves one or a combination of dietary and lifestyle measures, medications, and/or procedures that may include surgery.
Mild symptoms that come and go may be managed with dietary and lifestyle measures. Moderate to more severe symptoms additionally may be treated with medicines to stimulate stomach emptying and/or reduce nausea and vomiting.
Severe symptoms that are harder to treat may require added procedures to maintain nutrition and/or reduce symptoms.
Dietary and Lifestyle Measures – A nutrition specialist can help design a dietary plan to meet your needs. If you have diabetes, blood glucose levels will need to be controlled as well as possible. Blood glucose levels go up after stomach contents empty into the small intestine, and this is irregular in gastroparesis. Learn more about gastroparesis dietary and lifestyle measures.
Medicines – Prokinetic (promotility) agents help the stomach empty more quickly and may improve nausea, vomiting, and bloating. Antiemetic agents are used to treat nausea and vomiting.
Procedures –Severe symptoms sometimes result in dehydration, loss of essential minerals (electrolyte imbalances), and malnutrition requiring hospitalizations. Special treatment measures to help manage may include:
- enteral nutrition,
- parenteral nutrition,
- gastric electrical stimulation, or
- other surgical procedures.
Be sure to ask questions so you understand any treatment and options, know the risks as well as benefits, and know what to do if side effects occur or symptoms return.
Keep hydrated and as nutritionally fit as possible. Persistence pays off, as most people with gastroparesis ultimately will do well.
Adapted from IFFGD publication: Common Questions About Gastroparesis (Delayed Gastric Emptying).
1. NIH, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Gastroparesis Clinical Research Consortium. www.niddkrepository.org/studies/gpcrc (Accessed January 16, 2018)