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What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion. It is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which regulates the digestive system. A damaged vagus nerve prevents the muscles in the stomach and intestine from functioning, preventing food from moving through the digestive system properly. Often, the cause of gastroparesis is unknown.

However, the causes of gastroparesis can include:

  • Uncontrolled diabetes
  • Gastric surgery with injury to the vagus nerve
  • Medications such as narcotics and some antidepressants
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Rare conditions such as: Amyloidosis (deposits of protein fibers in tissues and organs) and scleroderma (a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and internal organs)

 

What Are the Symptoms of Gastroparesis?

There are many symptoms of gastroparesis, including:

  • Heartburn or GERD
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Poor blood sugar control

What Are the Complications of Gastroparesis?

Some of the complications of gastroparesis include:

  • Food that stays in the stomach too long can ferment, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.
  • Food in the stomach can harden into a solid collection, called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause obstructions in the stomach that keep food from passing into the small intestine.
  • People who have both diabetes and gastroparesis may have more difficulty because blood sugar levels rise when food finally leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, making blood sugar control more of a challenge.

How Is Gastroparesis Diagnosed?

To diagnose gastroparesis, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. He or she will also give you a physical exam and may order certain blood tests, including blood sugar levels. Other tests used to diagnose and evaluate gastroparesis may include:

  • Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid (barium), which coats the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and shows up on X-ray. This test is also known as an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or a barium swallow.
  • Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan (gastric scintigraphy): You eat food that contains a very small amount of radioisotope (a radioactive substance), then lie under a scanning machine; if the scan shows that more than 10% of food is still in your stomach 4 hours after eating, you are diagnosed with gastroparesis.
  • Gastric manometry: A thin tube that is passed through your mouth and into the stomach measures the stomach's electrical and muscular activity to determine the rate of digestion.
  • Electrogastrography: This test measures electrical activity in the stomach using electrodes placed on the skin.
  • The smart pill: This is a small electronic device that is swallowed. It sends back information about how fast it is traveling as it moves through the digestive system.
  • Ultrasound: This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of body organs. Your doctor may use ultrasound to eliminate other diseases.
  • Upper endoscopy: This procedure involves passing a thin tube (endoscope) down the esophagus to examine the lining of the stomach.

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