Gastroparesis: What You Should Know [Video]

  • Gastroparesis refers to the slow emptying of the stomach.
  • Several conditions can cause gastroparesis, including diabetes, spinal cord injury, or certain medications.
  • Stress management may be an integral part of the treatment plan for gastroparesis. 

Gastroparesis is the medical term for slow emptying of the stomach, says Integrative Gastroenterologist Marvin Singh, M.D. The condition is quite common, but Singh says not all people are familiar with it.

Symptoms of gastroparesis include pain in the upper abdomen, bloating, nausea, vomiting, fullness, belching, and regurgitation. The condition occurs when the stomach isn’t functioning normally, which causes food to leave the stomach slowly.

What is gastroparesis?

According to Dr. Singh, gastroparesis is a motility disorder, in which the stomach isn’t moving fast enough. 

However, slow stomach motility can also be caused by a tumor obstructing the exit of food from your stomach. Talk to your doctor to ensure you get the correct diagnosis.

Causes of gastroparesis

While several things can cause gastroparesis, many cases of gastroparesis don’t have clear causes. Some of the common causes of the condition include diabetes, gastrectomy, spinal cord injury, or certain drugs that block nerve signals. 

Nerve or nervous-system-related dysfunction is a common underlying theme in some of these conditions. Experts believe that in diabetes, chronic high blood sugars are associated with an increased risk of neuropathy. Oxidative stress and nervous system dysfunction contribute to gastroparesis development. 

Diagnosing gastroparesis

If you have gastroparesis symptoms, you may be referred for an upper endoscopy, in which doctors insert a long, flexible tube with a camera and light into your mouth and upper gastrointestinal tract to evaluate the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum or the beginning portion of the small intestine. The procedure is done to ensure that nothing is obstructing food passage.

If nothing is seen during the procedure, doctors may refer you for a gastric emptying scan in which you eat a meal with a radiolabeled isotope to help the radiologist determine how fast the food leaves the stomach. If your stomach doesn’t empty quickly enough, you may have gastroparesis.

Managing gastroparesis

If your gastroparesis has a particular cause, the treatment and management should focus on the underlying cause of your condition. Usual medical treatments for gastroparesis include:

1. Dietary changes

Dietary modification is the core strategy for managing gastroparesis. Stay hydrated, control your blood sugar, and eat frequent small meals. Blending foo may even be necessary for some people. 

It is also important to consider how much your stomach can take based on its motility rate. If you fill your stomach faster than it can empty, it will cause a problem. So, fill your stomach slowly to give it more time and lessen its stress when emptying.

A gastroparesis diet is usually low in fat, and high in soluble fiber because they’re easier for the stomach to process this type of diet than complex fats and insoluble fibers. You may ease your diet as your symptoms improve. Consider working with a dietitian who’s skilled in helping gastroparesis patients. Some people with the condition also undergo food sensitivity testing to help them gain insights on how they can optimize their diets. 

2. Medications

If dietary modifications cannot control your symptoms, ask your doctor about prescription medicines or surgeries.

3. Integrative approaches

Singh says he also considers less conventional tools for helping patients manage their symptoms:

  • Ginger – contains properties that help with gastric emptying and promote gastrointestinal motility.
  • Iberogast, or STW-5 – a therapy that uses several herbs to improve intestinal electrophysiology.
  • Swedish bitters – may help manage gastroparesis, the same way as acupuncture and electroacupuncture.

4. Stress management

The brain and gastrointestinal tract are directly connected via the vagus nerve, a bidirectional information superhighway. Because of this connection, modifying some of the brain’s chemical messages may support gut health. Singh often recommends mindfulness, breathwork, and meditation as part of any treatment plan for gastrointestinal diseases.

Source: Mind Body Green

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