Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying, is a medical condition characterized by the stomach’s inability to empty food normally. A blockage does not cause it, but rather a malfunction of the vagus nerve that controls the stomach muscles.
The vagus nerve is one of the most intricate nerves within the human nervous system. It originates in the brain and extends into the abdomen, passing through various organs, including the heart, esophagus, and lungs. Functioning as the body’s primary parasympathetic control center, the vagus nerve plays a crucial role in maintaining homeostasis by regulating numerous bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, and respiratory rate. Concerning gastroparesis, any damage or dysfunction of the vagus nerve can hinder the contractions of the stomach muscles, leading to the symptoms of this condition.
Who Is At Risk?
Gastroparesis can affect individuals of all ages and genders, but it’s observed more frequently in women than in men, usually between the ages of 30 and 60. Individuals with diabetes, especially type 1 diabetes, are at a higher risk of developing gastroparesis due to nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels.
People with certain neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or chronic pain, may also be at risk. Additionally, people with certain types of surgery on their esophagus or stomach may be more susceptible. Surprisingly, in many cases, the cause of gastroparesis is unknown. This type is called idiopathic gastroparesis.
Idiopathic is a subtype of gastroparesis whose cause is unknown. The term ‘idiopathic’ is derived from Greek, meaning ‘disease of its own kind.’ Thus, it refers to a condition arising spontaneously or from an obscure or unknown cause. Despite extensive medical examinations, no discernible nerve damage, surgery, or disease (such as diabetes) that could potentially affect stomach function is found in these patients.
Testing For Gastroparesis
Tests are usually done first to look for signs of infection and diseases that can cause delayed gastric emptying. A physical exam and blood tests can also help identify the underlying causes of gastroparesis.
The following are the commonly used tests to diagnose gastroparesis:
- Gastric Emptying Study: This is the most common test for diagnosing gastroparesis. It involves eating a light meal (like eggs or oatmeal) that contains a small amount of radioactive material. A scanner then monitors the rate at which food leaves the stomach.
- Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series: This test involves drinking a barium-based liquid and taking X-rays to see how the liquid moves through the digestive tract.
- Endoscopy: In this test, a thin tube with a camera is passed down the patient’s throat into the stomach. This allows the doctor to see the stomach and check for potential blockages.
- Gastric Manometry: This test measures electrical and muscular activity in the stomach. A thin tube is passed through the mouth into the stomach when the patient has fasted overnight. The tube contains a wire that takes measurements of the stomach’s electrical and muscular activity as it digests liquids.
- SmartPill: The SmartPill is a small, ingestible device that travels through the digestive tract and sends data to a recorder worn by the patient. It measures factors such as pH, temperature, and transit speed through various parts of the digestive tract.
Each of these tests provides valuable insights into the functioning of the stomach and the rate at which it empties. The results of these tests help healthcare providers make a definitive diagnosis and develop a personalized treatment plan for those suffering from gastroparesis.
Treatment for gastroparesis usually depends on the underlying cause. If the cause is diabetes, controlling your blood sugar levels may help. Treatment options for other causes can include medications to reduce stomach muscle spasms and speed up digestion, dietary changes, or even surgery. Sometimes, lifestyle modifications, such as eating smaller meals more frequently or avoiding fatty and high-fiber foods, can also help improve symptoms.
Talking to your doctor about the best treatment option for you is important. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle modifications, medications, or both. Managing this condition can be difficult, but with the right approach and management plan, improving your quality of life is possible.
For some individuals, gastroparesis can be a long-term condition. It’s important to remember that treatment options are available, and you should never feel like you have no control over the situation.
Managing the symptoms of gastroparesis can be challenging, but it’s important to practice self-care and take time out for yourself. Ensure you get enough rest, eat nutritious meals, exercise regularly, and find ways to relax. Talking to a mental health professional is important if you feel overwhelmed or depressed.
Finally, finding a support system that can help you manage your condition and improve your quality of life is important. Talking to family and friends about how you are feeling can help manage the symptoms of gastroparesis. You could also join a support group or online community with people who have similar experiences.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that you are not alone in your gastroparesis journey and that treatment options are available. Proper care and management can improve your quality of life and manage your symptoms.
We here at Gastro Florida want to ensure you are healthy and happy. We would like you to contact your healthcare provider as soon as possible or set up an appointment with Gastro Florida for any more questions or concerns.