Being derived from gastro (stomach) and paresis (weakness), gastroparesis (pronounced gas-tro-par-ees-is) literally means ‘weak stomach’. It refers to the common condition where the stomach takes too long to empty its contents.
Stomach on Strike
The great gobble that you took from your plate, moves down to your stomach, which in turn contracts to push it into the small intestine. The vagus nerve controls the movement of food from the stomach through the digestive tract. But if the vagus nerve is damaged or the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not work normally, your food stops moving, or moves slowly, at best.\
The most common cause of gastroparesis is diabetes. Diabetics have high blood sugar, which causes chemical changes in the nerves and damages the blood vessels carrying oxygen and nutrients to the nerves. The outrage of diabetes, over time, can damage the vagus nerve. The other gastroparesis culprits are:
- Surgery on the stomach/vagus nerve.
- Viral infections.
- Certain drugs that weaken the stomach (tricyclic antidepressants, calcium blockers and narcotics).
- Smooth muscle disorders, such as amyloidosis and scleroderma.
- Nervous system diseases, including abdominal migraine and Parkinson’s disease.
- Metabolic disorders, including hypothyroidism.
And then, there is that kind, which cannot be diagnosed even after medical tests. In people with idiopathic gastroparesis – which is a significant majority, if you look at percentages — the cause remains unknown.
Do You Have It?
Do you feel full after just a few bites of food? But end up bloating nevertheless? Do you feel nauseated, with excessive belching? It isthen good that you consult with your doctor – especially if a vague, nagging ache conquers your upper abdomen. And if you are vomiting,have heartburn or your stomach fluid comes back into the mouth, you would do good to not delay your check up!
What Will Your Doctor Do?
- The doctor will go through your medical history, and check which of the above mentioned symptoms you sport. She may order several blood tests and other tests to rule out an obstruction, including these two:
- Upper Gastrointestinal Endoscopy: A thin camera attached to a tube called an endoscope is passed through your mouth and gently down the throat, into your stomach. Through the endoscope, the doctor can look at the lining of the stomach to check for any abnormalities, mainly obstruction.
- Barium X-ray exam: You will be asked to drink a thick liquid called Barium, which will coat your stomach. This will show up in the X-ray, and doctors can trace the blockages. Gastric emptying scintigraphy and electrogastrogram are other usual tests.
All Is Well
Disclaimer: In most cases, treatment does not cure gastroparesis. However, this helps you to manage the condition, so you can be as healthy and comfortable as
- If there is an underlying disorder – like diabetes – it needs to be treated effectively through good blood sugar control, or similarly, thyroid medicine for hypothyroid patients. Treatment also depends on the severity of the symptoms.
- Several medications are used to treat gastroparesis. Your doctor may try different medications or combinations to find the most effective treatment. Common medications include Metoclopramide, Erythromycin, Domperidone. Discussing the risk and side effects of any medication with your doctor is important. Other medications may be used to treat symptoms and problems related to gastroparesis. For example, antiemetics can help in curing nausea and vomiting.Antibiotics will clear up a bacterial infection.
- Changing your eating habits can also help control gastroparesis. Your doctor or dietician may prescribe small meals a day instead of large meals, so that the food can move down better. If less food enters the stomach each time you eat, it may not become overly full – just like the traffic on our roads. You might also do good to avoid high-fat and high-fibre foods – fat naturally slows digestion and fibre is difficult to digest.