Understanding Gastroparesis: A Gastroenterologist’s Perspective

As a gastroenterologist, I have had the opportunity to treat various digestive disorders over the years. However, the one that affects women the most is gastroparesis. This chronic condition can be debilitating and significantly impact one’s quality of life. In this blog post, I want to explain gastroparesis, what causes it, how it is diagnosed, and what treatment options are available.

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What is gastroparesis? 

Gastroparesis is a condition that affects the normal motility or movement of the stomach, resulting in delayed emptying. This means food stays in the stomach longer than it should and can cause various symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, and abdominal pain. It is estimated that approximately 5 million people in the United States are affected by gastroparesis each year, with women being twice as likely to develop the condition than men.

What causes gastroparesis? 

Gastroparesis is often caused by high levels of blood sugar, which can damage the nerves that control the stomach muscles. It is important for people with diabetes who experience symptoms of gastroparesis to speak with their doctor about treatment options. 

Other causes of gastroparesis include autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders, and certain medications such as opioids and antidepressants. However, in most cases, the underlying cause remains unknown. Some patients also develop idiopathic gastroparesis, meaning there is no identifiable cause for their delayed stomach emptying.

How is gastroparesis diagnosed? 

Diagnosing gastroparesis can be challenging as several conditions can cause similar symptoms. However, the gold standard for diagnosis is a gastric emptying study. This non-invasive test involves consuming a meal containing a small amount of radioactive tracer and then measuring how long it takes the stomach to empty the contents into the small intestine. Other tests, such as endoscopy and breath testing, may also be used with the gastric emptying study to rule out other conditions.

What are the treatment options? 

When it comes to treating gastroparesis, there are several options available. First, dietary modifications are usually the first line of defense. Diet can help reduce symptoms and improve overall health. Eating smaller meals more frequently can help manage uncomfortable fullness after eating. It is also important to avoid high-fat foods as these take longer to digest and can worsen symptoms. Additionally, drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day can help keep food moving through the digestive system. Eating a nutrient-dense diet, with plenty of fiber and whole grains, can help manage hunger levels and provide energy. Avoiding foods that are high in sugar or refined carbohydrates can also be beneficial for managing symptoms. Lastly, limiting caffeine intake can reduce gastrointestinal spasms which can worsen gastroparesis symptoms. 

Medications such as prokinetic agents and anti-nausea drugs can also help improve stomach motility and relieve symptoms. Surgical interventions like gastric electrical stimulation or a feeding tube may be necessary in severe cases.

Gastroparesis is a complex condition that can significantly impact a person’s quality of life. While there is no cure for this condition, there are several treatment options available that can help manage symptoms and improve the overall outlook. As a gastroenterologist, I aim to provide my patients with the most effective and safe treatment options and improve their quality of life. By understanding gastroparesis, what causes it, and how it is diagnosed and treated, patients and healthcare providers can work together to manage this condition effectively.

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