Your digestive system is a fine-tuned operation, taking food from your plate, through your digestive tract, nourishing your body, and eliminating as waste any food that isn’t necessary. In order for all that to happen as it’s supposed to, all the muscles and organs in your digestive system have to work in tandem. Sometimes, some of the muscles can malfunction, causing a slow down in food digestion. This condition is called gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis affects the muscles in your stomach, which is how food is moved through your digestive system. When the muscles in your stomach fail to work properly, your stomach can’t empty, meaning food can sit in your stomach for longer than normal. If your body is functioning as it should, food travels from your stomach and small intestine, and then down through the lower GI tract. During that process, some of the food is absorbed as nutrition in your body, with the rest of it being turned into waste. In gastroparesis patients, the muscles in your stomach don’t continue that process. It can cause a constant feeling of fullness, vomiting and nausea, as well as a change in blood sugar levels.
Gastroparesis isn’t very common, affecting around 10 men and 40 women out of 100,000. It’s typically diagnosed through a combination of detailed patient history, a physical exam, and various lab tests. Ultrasounds, upper GI endoscopy or imaging tests, including a gastric emptying study, can also be conducted to observe how long it takes for your stomach to empty. Symptoms of the condition include nausea and vomiting, an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, lack of appetite, bloating, acid reflux, and upper abdominal pain. The condition can also cause dehydration as a result of vomiting or malnutrition, so watch out for signs of dehydration as well.
Depending on the cause of the gastroparesis, there are several courses of treatment that are usually recommended. They most often start with changing your eating habits, including eating five or six small meals a day instead of several large ones. These meals should consist of well cooked, soft foods, ones low in fat and fiber, and be accompanied by lots of water or electrolyte-rich drinks. Light exercise after eating helps, as well as avoiding laying down for two hours after eating. If you have gastroparesis, you should avoid alcohol or carbonated beverages as well. In some cases, we may also recommend prescription medications to help the muscles in your stomach start moving properly again.
Gastroparesis can have a few different causes, including diabetes, taking certain medications, autoimmune disorders, diseases of the nervous system, or nerve damage. In many cases, the cause is unknown. If you have been experiencing trouble when you’re eating and feel like you could be dealing digestive problems, make an appointment at Carolina Digestive Health Associates. We can help determine the cause and recommend diet and lifestyle changes in order to make you feel better.