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Overview

Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Normally, the muscles of the stomach, which are controlled by the vagus nerve, contract to break up food and move it through the gastrointestinal (G.I.) tract. Gastroparesis can occur when the vagus nerve is damaged by illness or injury and the stomach muscles stop working normally. Food then moves slowly from the stomach to the small intestine or stops moving altogether.

What causes gastroparesis?
Most people diagnosed with gastroparesis have idiopathic gastroparesis, which means a health care provider cannot identify the cause, even with medical tests. Diabetes is the most common known cause of gastroparesis. People with diabetes have high levels of blood glucose, also called blood sugar. Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage the vagus nerve. Other identifiable causes of gastroparesis include intestinal surgery and nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis. For reasons that are still unclear, gastroparesis is more commonly found in women than in men.

What are the symptoms of gastroparesis?
The most common symptoms of gastroparesis are nausea, a feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount of food, and vomiting undigested food—sometimes several hours after a meal. Other symptoms of gastroparesis include

  • Gastroesophageal reflux (GER), also called acid reflux or acid regurgitation—a condition in which stomach contents flow back up into the esophagus, the organ that connects the mouth to the stomach
  • Pain in the stomach area
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Lack of appetite

Symptoms may be aggravated by eating greasy or rich foods, large quantities of foods with fiber—such as raw fruits and vegetables—or drinking beverages high in fat or carbonation. Symptoms may be mild or severe, and they can occur frequently in some people and less often in others. The symptoms of gastroparesis may also vary in intensity over time in the same individual. Sometimes gastroparesis is difficult to diagnose because people experience a range of symptoms similar to those of other diseases.

What are the problems of gastroparesis?
The problems of gastroparesis can include

  • Severe dehydration due to persistent vomiting
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is GER that occurs more than twice a week for a few weeks; GERD can lead to esophagitis— irritation of the esophagus
  • Bezoars, which can cause nausea, vomiting, obstruction, or interfere with absorption of some medications in pill form
  • Difficulty managing blood glucose levels in people with diabetes
  • Malnutrition due to poor absorption of nutrients or a low calorie intake
  • Decreased quality of life, including work absences due to severe symptoms