Gastroparesis is a condition where food remains in the stomach for longer than it should, due to the muscles of the stomach not functioning properly. As a result, food is not properly broken into smaller pieces or mixed with stomach acid and enzymes and so is not properly digested.
In many people, the cause of gastroparesis is unclear. However, there are factors that can be associated with gastroparesis:
- Surgery to the abdomen or oesophagus.
- Some medications, especially opioid pain medication and some antidepressants.
- Diseases affecting the nervous system, such as Parkinson's.
- Connective tissue diseases, such as Scleroderma.
- Low thyroid activity (Hypothyroidism).
Women are more affected by gastroparesis than men.
In fact, many people with gastroparesis show no discernable symptoms at all. However, the following symptoms may indicate the condition:
- Bloating or pain in the abdominal area, especially after a meal.
- Reflux / heartburn.
- Poor appetite / feeling full after eating only a little.
- Nausea / vomiting (especially where an undigested meal eaten a few hours earlier is vomited up).
- Diarrhoea (especially at night).
- Malnutrition / weight loss.
- Erratic blood sugar levels.
Tests / Diagnosis
A range of tests may be required to diagnose gastroparesis. These start with a medical examination and blood tests, and may involve other procedures, such as a 'gastric emptying study' and/or ultrasound and endoscopy / gastroscopy.
Unfortunately, there is no cure as such for gastroparesis, however the condition can be managed. The options include...
- Lifestyle / eating modifications - for example eating fewer smaller meals and eating food that is easy to digest.
- Medication - there are medications that can be taken to improve contraction of the stomach muscles and to control nausea.
- Surgery - there are some surgical options for gastroparesis, where the condition does not improve with the approaches listed above.