Gastroparesis is a condition in which the spontaneous movement of the muscles (motility) in the stomach does not function normally.
Typically, strong muscular contractions propel food through the digestive tract. However, in gastroparesis the stomach’s motility functions poorly or not at all. This prevents the stomach from emptying properly. Gastroparesis can interfere with digestion, cause nausea and vomiting and cause problems with blood sugar levels and nutrition.
The exact cause of gastroparesis is often unknown. In this case it is called idiopathic gastroparesis (IG). People with diabetes who develop gastroparesis are diagnosed with diabetic gastroparesis (DG). Gastroparesis may also be the result of surgery.
There is no cure for gastroparesis but changes in diet along with medications can relieve the symptoms.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- A feeling of fullness after eating a few bites
- Abdominal bloating
- Abdominal pain
- Changes in blood sugar levels
- Lack of appetite
- Weight loss and malnutrition
The cause of gastroparesis is not always clear. However, in many cases, it is believed that gastroparesis is caused by damage to a nerve that controls the stomach muscles (vagus nerve).
The vagus nerve plays a role in managing the complex processes in the digestive tract, including signaling the muscles in the stomach to contract and push food into the small intestine. A damaged vagus nerve may not function normally and cannot send the normal signals to the stomach muscles. This may cause food to remain in the stomach longer.
The vagus nerve can be damaged by diseases such as diabetes or surgery to the stomach or small intestine.
Factors that increase the risk of gastroparesis include:
- Abdominal or esophageal surgery
- Certain medications that slow the rate of stomach emptying
- Certain cancer treatments (radiation therapy)
- Scleroderma (connective tissue disease)
- Nervous system diseases (Parkinson’s disease or MS)
Complications of gastroparesis may include:
- Severe dehydration (due to ongoing vomiting)
- Malnutrition (loss of nutrients due to vomiting and loss of appetite)
- Undigested food that hardens and remains in the stomach
- Blood sugar fluctuations
- Decreased quality of life