Gastroparesis is a condition characterized by the impaired functioning of the stomach muscles. Normally, your stomach muscles contract and move food through your digestive tract. In gastroparesis, the stomach muscles are inefficient or do not function at all, preventing your stomach from emptying its contents into the small intestine. Symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea, vomiting, early satiety, bloating, heartburn, acid reflux, changes in blood sugar levels, lack of appetite and weight loss.
Though unclear, gastroparesis is believed to be caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the stomach muscles. The vagus nerve can be damaged by surgery to the stomach or small intestine, or from diseases such as diabetes. Without signals from the vagus nerve, the stomach muscles do not function and retain food in the stomach. Other factors that can affect proper stomach emptying include infection, certain drugs such as narcotics and antidepressants, eating disorders, scleroderma, Parkinson’s disease and hypothyroidism.
Your doctor diagnoses gastroparesis through a gastric-emptying study, in which food with a small amount of radioactive material is ingested, and the time taken for it to pass through the stomach is detected with a scanner. An upper endoscopy may also be performed where an endoscope, a thin tube fitted with a camera, is inserted down your throat to view the stomach and small intestine.
Treatment involves identifying and treating the underlying condition. Your doctor will work with you to manage conditions such as diabetes. You will be advised to make changes to your diet by including food that is easier for you to digest. You may be prescribed medications to control nausea and vomiting and/or to stimulate your stomach muscles. Your doctor may recommend a feeding tube (jejunostomy tube) that can be inserted into your mouth, nose or abdomen (directly into your small intestine). Surgery may be recommended if all other treatments fail. Surgery involves stapling or bypassing the lower part of your stomach to help improve stomach emptying.