It’s Gastroparesis Awareness Month, yet many people aren’t aware of gastroparesis and what it is. Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach cannot empty itself of food. This condition is indicated by a damaged vagus nerve, which prevents the muscles in the stomach and intestine from moving through the intestines properly.
While there is no known cause, gastroparesis can be caused by diabetes, gastric bypass surgery, some medications such as antidepressants, Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Symptoms of gastroparesis are: heartburn, nausea, vomiting, feeling full quickly when eating, bloating, weight loss and poor blood sugar control.
Since undigested food in the stomach can start to ferment, bacteria can more easily grow in the stomach and cause an infection. This is a complication of gastroparesis that can make people very sick and will usually require antibiotic treatment. Bezoars, or a solid collection of undigested food, can also develop. Bezoars can cause obstructions in the stomach and keep food from passing into the small intestine.
Blood sugar level issues can arise when people have diabetes develop gastroparesis. When food finally leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, blood sugar become difficult for the body to regulate.
Gastroparesis can be diagnosed a variety of different ways. It can be diagnosed with a Barium X-ray. This is an x-ray with Barium, a liquid alkaline metal, which helps show abnormalities in the gastrointestinal tract and not harmful when ingested. It can also be determined if you have gastroparesis with a Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan (gastric scintigraphy), which is a small tube passed through the esophagus. Newer methods include the smart pill, a small electronic device that is swallowed with a camera to take pictures of the digestive system. Ultrasounds and Endoscopy can also help diagnose gastroparesis.
There is no cure for gastroparesis, but there are aways to manage the condition. A course on antibiotics can be given to treat infection. For people with diabetes, controlling their blood sugar levels is important. There are also medications that can help control nausea. Moderating food intake is also very important. Instead of three meals a day, six smaller meals can be eaten to keep less food in the stomach. Avoiding foods high of fat and fiber is also wise.
For severe cases of gastroparesis, patients will have a feeding tube inserted so nutrients will go directly into the bloodstream through a catheter placed in a vein in the chest.
Newer methods for gastroparesis include electrical stimulation of the stomach wall to help the stomach muscles contract. While not common, the procedure is promising and becoming more widely accepted.
The blog is written by Lisa Dawson, the Director of Marketing at The Colony ER Hospital.
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