How Does Gastroparesis Affect Your Health?


Gastroparesis describes an immotile stomach. It is among the most serious and complicated gastric motility problems as it interferes with the normal involuntary movement of the stomach muscles. Under normal conditions, forceful muscular contractions in the stomach move food along the gastrointestinal (GI) system. If gastroparesis develops, however, the stomach's ability to process food decreases significantly or may stop completely. Such a condition can prevent the stomach contents from emptying properly and may lead to a number of other health conditions.

Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates is a premier source of specialized gastroparesis care. Since August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, our team seeks to educate patients about this concerning GI disorder. To learn more about gastroparesis from a board-certified gastroenterologist in New Orleans, LA, please contact us today.

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroparesis?

About one out of 25 Americans, including young children, suffers from gastroparesis. The GI condition is more prevalent in females versus males, and it's more common among patients who have had diabetes for some time. Patients who have gastroparesis might experience signs and symptoms, like:

  • Long-term abdominal pain
  • Acid reflux or heartburn
  • Frequent nausea
  • Feeling fullness even after eating very little
  • Stomach bloating
  • Poor appetite and unintended weight loss
  • Purging of undigested food
  • Inconsistent blood sugar levels

A number of patients who have gastroparesis do not experience any noticeable indications. In some cases, the condition appears fleetingly and subsides by itself or is diminished with professional care. Some cases may be less responsive to treatment.

What factors lead to gastroparesis?

The cause the gastroparesis isn't always clear. However, physicians have pinpointed a number of factors that can contribute to the condition, including:

  • Amyloidosis: This disease develops when protein fibers accumulate in organs or tissues throughout the body.
  • Damage to the vagus nerve. Diabetes, viruses, and surgery to the small intestine or stomach can cause harm to the vagus nerve. Significant in managing the digestive tract, the vagus nerve stimulates the muscles in the gut to contract and propel food toward the small intestine. A damaged vagus nerve can't properly signal the muscles in the stomach. In this instance, food might remain in the stomach for a longer period of time as opposed to moving into the small intestine for normal digestion.
  • Medications: Opioid, certain antidepressant, hypertension, and allergy medications can generate delayed gastric emptying and cause gastroparesis-like symptoms. Among patients already affected by the disease, these medications could worsen their conditions.
  • Scleroderma: This connective tissue condition can have an impact on the organs, muscles, blood vessels, and skin.

Health issues associated with gastroparesis are:

  1. Severe dehydration. Repeated purging of stomach contents can result in a dangerous state of dehydration.
  2. Poor nutrition. Appetite loss and repeated purging of stomach contents can cause inadequate nutritional intake and the inability to digest sufficient proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
  3. Undigested food. Undigested food in the stomach might solidify, forming a mass called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause nausea and vomiting and could cause death if they keep food from emptying out of the stomach.
  4. Unpredictable blood sugar changes. Even though gastroparesis isn't a cause of diabetes, continual variations in the volume of and rate at which food passes into the small intestine might elicit unstable blood sugar levels. These variations in blood glucose worsen diabetes, which can cause further issues with gastroparesis.
  5. Diminished living quality. The negative impact of gastroparesis can make it tough to work and keep up with other life commitments.

How is gastroparesis detected?

A gastroenterologist specializes in digestive diseases, such as gastroparesis. After reviewing a person's symptoms and health history, a GI doctor will carry out a physical exam and likely recommend lab work to evaluate blood sugar levels and other factors. Additional procedures conducted to diagnose gastroparesis may include:

  • SmartPill™ motility testing system: The SmartPill is a miniature, digestible capsule that holds an electronic device. Once the capsule is consumed and makes its way down the digestive tract, it conveys gastric readings to a device kept on the patient. This test tracks and records how fast food moves through the GI tract.
  • Four-hour solid gastric emptying study: Doctors can assess the time it takes food to empty out of the stomach with a gastric emptying study. Patients will consume a portion of food that has a radioactive isotope. An image of the stomach will be captured one minute after the meal is eaten. Additional imaging scans will then be completed at set intervals over the next several hours to analyze how the food moves through the stomach and the remainder of the GI system.

How do GI doctors treat gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a long-term health illness. While treatment generally doesn't resolve the disorder, gastroparesis can be controlled and managed with medical care. Individuals living with diabetes are advised to actively monitor and manage their blood glucose amounts to curtail any issues with gastroparesis. Some patients could find gastroparesis treatment success with medications, such as:

  • Reglan: Reglan stimulates the stomach muscles to contract to help push food into the small bowel and reduce queasiness and vomiting. Adverse effects might include loose bowels and, in rare instances, a significant neurological concern.
  • Erythromycin: This antibiotic medication also stimulates stomach movement and aids in emptying the stomach. Other potential effects are loose bowels and the risk of developing resistant bacteria from taking the antibiotic over a period of time.
  • Antiemetics: These medications help prevent nausea.

Certain people may benefit from surgical procedures to treat gastroparesis, including:

  • Gastric bypass: During a gastric bypass, a little pouch is formed from the top part of the stomach. Half of the small bowel is connected directly to the new stomach pouch. This procedure greatly limits the volume of food the patient can take in, and may be more successful for an obese diabetic patient when compared with gastric electrical stimulation or medication therapy.
  • Gastric electrical stimulation: A small device referred to as a gastric stimulator is inserted into the abdominal area. This stimulator has two leads connected to the stomach muscles that provide minor electric shocks, which help minimize the urge to regurgitate.

Other ways to treat gastroparesis include:

  • Jejunostomy/feeding tube: When gastroparesis is advanced, a feeding tube or jejunostomy tube could be recommended. A tube is surgically placed through the abdomen into the small bowel. Liquid nutrients are put into the feeding tube, which go straight into the small bowel and into the bloodstream more rapidly. The jejunostomy tube is generally a temporary measure.
  • IV Nutrition: With this intravenous, or parenteral approach, nutrients directly enter the bloodstream by way of a catheter placed into a blood vessel in the chest wall. Similar to a jejunostomy feeding tube, IV nutrition is a temporary solution for addressing severe gastroparesis conditions.
  • POP: Peroral pyloromyotomy (POP) is a newer option in which the doctor inserts a long, flexible instrument through the mouth and esophagus and into the stomach. The pylorus (the valve that empties the stomach) is then severed, allowing the stomach contents to move into the small bowel more normally.

Can a certain diet help with gastroparesis?

According to the American College of Gastroenterology, a proper diet is a cornerstone of gastroparesis treatment and serves as a natural treatment approach. Doctors might also prescribe medication and perform other medical procedures to manage symptoms of gastroparesis. However, these interventions work more effectively if a certain diet is followed. A gastroparesis diet focuses on limiting the consumption of foods that are challenging to digest, such as fatty and high-fiber foods. This can facilitate digestion and lessen the risk of problems from gastroparesis.

In the event you are having gastroparesis signs or symptoms, or troubles related to a gastroparesis diagnosis, we encourage you to visit a New Orleans, LA gastrointestinal doctor near you immediately. Please call Metropolitan Gastroenterology Associates today to reserve a consultation.