Gastroparesis is a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. It occurs when the vagus nerve (which controls the stomach muscles) is damaged by illness or injury so the stomach muscles can no longer function properly and digest food. The most common symptoms of gastroparesis are nausea, a feeling of fullness after only eating a small amount of food and vomiting undigested food. It can also cause issues with reflux, bloating, stomach pain and lack of appetite.
Diabetes is the most common identifiable cause of gastroparesis, though doctors are unable to determine what causes the disorder in most patients. It is often diagnosed through a series of GI tests, blood work and the ruling out of other conditions. Treatments for the disorder vary depending on the individual’s specific symptoms and the severity of their condition. Unfortunately at this time current treatments are often not very effective in curing the condition. Gastroparesis is a relapsing disorder, so treatments aim to prevent future relapses and minimize symptoms when relapses do occur. Treatments may involve a change in diet or eating habits, medication to stimulate the stomach muscles or improve gastric emptying, or in more severe cases, surgically implanting a feeding tube to deliver a stream of liquid nutrients.
Gastroparesis can be a very difficult and frustrating disease to live with. People with this disorder may feel constantly nauseous, feel a great deal of pain, miss out on eating all their old favorite foods (especially in “normal” quantities) and have other side effects or secondary illnesses that arise due to the gastroparesis. Many with the condition find it necessary to do their own research and become an expert on their body and its functioning in order to create the best quality of life for themselves. Gastroparesis can have other consequences as well, including restrictions on work or activities and the distancing of family or friends who have difficulty comprehending the condition. Some describe the disorder as feeling like the combination of a stomach bug and a hangover.
Scientists are conducting research to gain a better understanding of what causes gastroparesis and how to treat it. Several clinical trials may be available to test new treatment options if individuals with gastroparesis choose to participate in furthering this research. Various foundations and organizations exist to fund and further this research, raise awareness and provide support to people with gastroparesis.