What is gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a stomach disorder that occurs when one’s stomach takes an unduly long time to empty food.
This condition affects the muscles of the stomach and can cause various symptoms, such as a bloated feeling in the stomach, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, acid reflux, and weight loss.
While gastroparesis is not curable, suitable medical intervention can manage the symptoms to a great extent. Patients with a gastroparesis diagnosis need not be despondent. They can get relief through medication, and only in extreme cases would they have to undergo surgery.
Symptoms of gastroparesis
Gastroparesis symptoms are generic and can be confused with other diseases, which makes it difficult to diagnose.
Early signs of gastroparesis may include any or all of the following symptoms:
- Abdominal bloating
- Acid reflux
- Lack of appetite
- Chronic abdominal pain.
- Fluctuating blood sugar levels
- Upset stomach
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden weight loss and malnutrition
- Abdominal pain
- Weight loss and malnutrition
- Throwing up undigested food
It is common for those with gastroparesis initially to not experience any noticeable signs and symptoms.
Causes of gastroparesis
There are no known gastroparesis causes. The general theory is that it occurs due to the disruption of nerve transmission in the stomach.
If a patient’s stomach nerves get affected, they may develop gastroparesis. It will then cause the food to move slowly in the stomach. Knowing what causes the nerves to get affected could lead to a cure.
Diagnosis of gastroparesis
As mentioned earlier, this condition is not easy to diagnose.
Gastroparesis is a diagnosis of exclusion. It means that patients might not have a conclusive gastroparesis diagnosis; it is not conclusive the way identification of the malarial parasite in the blood confirms malaria. Which is why it needs more investigative procedures and experts with good experience to diagnose the problem.
We examine patients and ask a series of medical-related questions to eliminate other medical conditions that might cause the symptoms. Then, we recommend the following tests:
- Ultrasound test: This test will include scanning the internal organs to rule out gallbladder disease, pancreatitis, and liver disease.
- Blood test: The blood test will rule out diabetes or any other diseases that can be detected by examining blood.
- Upper endoscopy: This procedure involves inserting a tube into the patient’s oesophagus to look into the digestive tract for blockages or any other stomach conditions.
- Scintigraphy: Patients are asked to eat a small amount of food mixed with a harmless radioactive material for scintigraphy. We then track the movement of the food to check how fast the stomach digests and empties the food.
- SmartPill: The procedure is similar to scintigraphy, but a tracking pill is used to track the food movement in the stomach instead.
- Carbon breath test: This test involves measuring the carbon dioxide production of the digestive system.
Treatment of gastroparesis
Gastroparesis treatment does not cure the disease because it is a chronic medical condition. However, receiving the correct treatment does help patients manage their symptoms and give them some relief.
Additionally, if the patient has diabetes, they need to keep their blood sugar levels in check to combat gastroparesis.
Here are some medications patients might have to take:
- Reglan: Reglan is a drug that patients can take to reduce acidity. It blocks the dopamine produced in the body and activates the stomach muscles to move food from the stomach. It is a short-term treatment, typically 4-12 weeks. Side effects might include muscle spasms. It is not recommended unless prescibed by your physician.
- Erythromycin: Erythromycin is an antibiotic. It induces the stomach muscles to contract and move food. Side effects might include diarrhoea and resistance to the antibiotic. It is not recommended unless prescibed by your physician.
- Antiemetics: Antiemetics are anti-nausea drugs. We use them to treat nausea caused by stomach issues, motion sickness, morning sickness, gastroenteritis, and pregnancy. There are many types of antiemetics depending on the source of nausea. Not to be consumed unless prescibed by your physician.
Surgery for gastroparesis
If patients’ gastroparesis symptoms do not reduce with medication, we might recommend surgery. One such surgical procedure is gastric electrical stimulation.
It involves inserting a device into the digestive system, which directs mild electric shocks to the stomach muscles. This is performed using a battery-operated device, and we can adjust the duration and intensity of the electrical impulses.
Another surgical procedure that is more invasive is called gastric bypass. Here, our surgeons create a pouch using the tissue from the stomach. They then attach this pouch to the patient’s small intestine.
The pouch restricts food intake, thereby reducing the effects of gastroparesis. Gastric bypass is most effective for diabetic and obese patients and is considered the most effective form of gastroparesis treatment.
Risk factors for gastroparesis
As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to pinpoint gastroparesis causes. However, studies reveal that it affects women more than men. It is commonly caused by diabetes. It can also occur due to damage to the stomach nerves.
Some of the classic risk factors for gastroparesis are:
- Thyroid hormone deficiency (hypothyroidism).
- Medications like narcotics and antidepressants.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS).
- Vagus nerve damage following surgery.
- A viral stomach infection like gastroenteritis.
- Parkinson’s disease.
- Certain conditions like amyloidosis (protein fibre accumulation in the body) and scleroderma (a disorder affecting your blood vessels, skin, and skeletal muscles).
Gastroparesis isn’t a life-threatening disease. However, it can cause severe discomfort and complications like dehydration and malnutrition. It does not significantly impact life expectancy, but it does reduce the quality of life. With a qualified gastroparesis diagnosis and the correct treatment, patients can find some relief from the disease.
Patients experiencing gastroparesis symptoms can get timely diagnosis and compassionate care under the able guidance of our experienced gastroenterologist at the CK Birla hospital. Our gastroenterology department employs highly-qualified healthcare professionals who can provide you with timely treatment using state-of-the-art technology using advanced equipment and techniques.
Book an appointment with Dr Anukalp Prakash, who will facilitate the best possible line of treatment for you.