What Causes Gastroparesis?

A medical term that indicates a paralyzed stomach, gastroparesis is one of the more concerning and severe digestive motility conditions. It disrupts the normal involuntary movement of muscles in the stomach that aid in digestion. When functioning normally, the stomach muscles spontaneously contract to help food move through the gastrointestinal tract. When gastroparesis occurs, however, the stomach's ability to digest and move food slows considerably or may not work at all. This decrease in motility can prevent the stomach contents from emptying normally and might lead to several medical conditions. 

The experienced gastrointestinal (GI) specialists at Digestive Health Associates of Texas provide treatment for gastroparesis. Given that August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month, we have provided detailed information below about the condition to help educate patients on the condition. We invite you to continue reading to learn more about gastroparesis and contact our Dallas, TX gastroenterology team to schedule a consultation. 

Signs and symptoms of gastroparesis 

Gastroparesis affects one out of 25 Americans, including kids. This digestive concern is more prevalent in females compared to males, and is diagnosed more frequently in those who have been living with diabetes for a long time. Some of the more common signs of gastroparesis are: 

  •  Persistent nausea 
  • Feeling full very quickly when eating 
  • Purging of undigested food 
  • Decreased appetite and unintended weight loss 
  • Stomach bloating 
  • Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux 
  • Chronic pain in the abdominal area 
  • Inconsistent blood sugar levels    

Many patients who have gastroparesis might not experience noticeable symptoms. In some instances, the condition is fleeting and goes away on its own or improves with professional care. Certain cases of the condition may be refractory and more resistant to treatment. 


What factors cause gastroparesis? 

The primary cause of this GI concern may not be apparent. However, medical professionals have identified several health factors that can contribute to gastroparesis, such as: 

Vagus nerve damage. Diabetes, viral infections, and surgery of the stomach or small intestine can damage the vagus nerve. Vital for managing the gastrointestinal system, the vagus nerve causes the stomach muscles to contract to push food into the small intestine. When the vagus nerve is damaged, it is unable to properly control the stomach muscles. As a result, food can become trapped in the stomach as opposed to migrating into the small intestine for proper digestion. 

Amyloidosis: This disease arises when deposits of protein fibers accumulate in bodily tissues and organs. 

Medications: Opioid pain relievers, some antidepressants, allergy medications, and high blood pressure medications may cause impaired stomach clearing and lead to gastroparesis-like symptoms. Among individuals previously impacted by the disease, these medications can worsen its effects. 

Scleroderma: Scleroderma is a condition affecting the muscles, skin, organs, and blood vessels. 

Other complications that can be caused by gastroparesis can include: 

Severe dehydration. Repeated vomiting can cause a dangerous loss of bodily fluids. 

Dietary deficiencies. A depressed appetite and frequent regurgitation of stomach contents could result in poor dietary intake and prevent the ability to absorb sufficient proteins, vitamins, and minerals. 

Undigested food. Food that stays in the stomach may solidify, forming a mass known as a bezoar. This can lead to nausea and vomiting and might be fatal if a bezoar inhibits food from emptying beyond the stomach. 

Unpredictable blood sugar changes. Even though gastroparesis does not cause diabetes, repeated shifts in the amount and rate at which food empties into the bowels may cause unstable blood glucose amounts. Such fluctuations in blood sugar worsen diabetes, which could also worsen gastroparesis. 

Decreased quality of life. The health effects of gastroparesis might make it difficult to work and keep up with everyday responsibilities. 


Tests used to diagnose gastroparesis 

Gastroenterologists specialize in gastric problems, like gastroparesis. In addition to reviewing a patient's medical history and symptoms, a gastroenterologist will complete a physical examination and might recommend certain types of blood screenings, such as those to measure glucose levels. Other tests used to detect gastroparesis may include: 

Four-hour solid gastric emptying study: With this test, doctors assess the amount of time it requires for a meal to migrate through the stomach. Individuals eat a portion of food that contains a radioactive isotope. An image of the stomach is captured 60 seconds after the meal is consumed. Subsequent scans are then performed at the one, two, and four-hour marks following consumption to assess how the food migrates through the stomach and the remainder of the GI tract. 

SmartPill™ motility testing system: With this test, a small capsule that houses an electronic device is swallowed. When the capsule is ingested and moves down the GI system, it conveys gastric readings to a recorder kept on the individual. This test tracks and records how quickly food passes through the gastrointestinal tract. 

Gastroparesis treatment options 

Gastroparesis is a long-lasting medical disease. While treatment will not likely reverse the illness, gastroparesis is a condition that can often be managed and controlled. Patients who have diabetes are advised to actively evaluate and control their blood sugar amounts to curtail the issues with gastroparesis. A number of people might find relief with certain medications, including: 

Erythromycin: This antibiotic medication stimulates gastric contractions and aids in pushing food through the GI tract. Side effects are diarrhea and the chance of developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria if taken for a long time. 

Reglan: Reglan stimulates the stomach muscles to contract to move food into the small intestine and lessen the chance of stomach upset and vomiting. Additional effects that could be experienced include loose bowels and, rarely, a serious neurological condition. 

Antiemetics: These medications help minimize queasiness. 

A number of individuals may benefit from a surgical approach to treat gastroparesis, which might include: 

Gastric electrical stimulation: A miniature apparatus called a gastric stimulator is placed into the abdominal area. This stimulator has two leads connected to the stomach that administer tiny electric shocks in an effort to help manage the urge to regurgitate. 

Gastric bypass: With a gastric bypass, a little pouch is structured from the upper area of the stomach. The small intestine is divided in half and attached directly to the new stomach pouch. A gastric bypass considerably limits the volume of food a person can take in, and may be more successful for a diabetic obese patient when compared with gastric electrical stimulation or medication therapy. 

Additional ways to treat gastroparesis are: 

Jejunostomy/feeding tube: When gastroparesis is advanced, a jejunostomy tube or feeding tube may be appropriate. A plastic tube is surgically placed through the abdomen into the small bowel. Typically, liquid nutrients are administered through the tube, which the pass straight into the small bowel. This allows nutrients to enter the bloodstream more quickly. A feeding tube is often a short-term approach to treating gastroparesis. 

POP: A nonsurgical procedure, peroral pyloromyotomy (POP) is a treatment during which the physician places a flexible, thin scope in the upper GI system and advances it to the stomach. The physician then cuts the pylorus, which is the valve that empties the stomach, allowing food to travel to the small bowel more normally. 

IV Nutrition: During this parenteral, or intravenous, feeding method, nutrients enter the bloodstream via a catheter inserted into a vessel in the chest. Much like a jejunostomy feeding tube, IV nutrition is a temporary solution for addressing severe gastroparesis cases. 


Are there dietary guidelines for gastroparesis?  

As reported by the American College of Gastroenterology, a healthy diet is a pillar in treating gastroparesis and functions as a natural treatment approach. In addition, doctors can recommend medication and carry out medical services to improve symptoms of the intestinal condition. However, such medical therapies work best when patients consume a specific diet. A gastroparesis diet includes reducing the quantity of foods that might be hard to digest, like those high in fiber and fat content. This can help minimize problems associated with gastroparesis and facilitate digestion. 

Should you notice indications of gastroparesis or have troubles related to a gastroparesis diagnosis, please arrange an appointment with a Dallas, TX gastrointestinal specialist near you promptly. Call Digestive Health Associates of Texas today to set up a gastroparesis consultation.