Gastroparesis Treatment

How is gastroparesis treated?
Treatment of gastroparesis depends on the severity of the person’s symptoms. In most cases, treatment does not cure gastroparesis, which is usually a chronic, or long-lasting, condition. Gastroparesis is also a relapsing condition—the symptoms can come and go for periods of time. Treatment helps people manage the condition so they can be as comfortable and active as possible.

Eating, Diet, and Nutrition
Changing eating habits can sometimes help control the severity of gastroparesis symptoms. Dr. Jones may suggest eating six small meals a day instead of three large ones. If less food enters the stomach each time a person eats, the stomach may not become overly full, allowing it to empty more easily. Chewing food well, drinking noncarbonated liquids with a meal, and walking or sitting for 2 hours after a meal—instead of lying down—may assist with gastric emptying.

Dr. Jones may also recommend avoiding high-fat and fibrous foods. Fat naturally slows digestion and some raw vegetables and fruits are more difficult to digest than other foods. Some foods, such as oranges and broccoli, contain fibrous parts that do not digest well. People with gastroparesis should minimize their intake of large portions of these foods because the undigested parts may remain in the stomach too long. Sometimes, the undigested parts form bezoars.

When a person has severe symptoms, a liquid or puréed diet may be prescribed. As liquids tend to empty more quickly from the stomach, some people may find a puréed diet helps improve symptoms. Puréed fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables can be incorporated into shakes and soups. Dr. Jones may recommend a dietitian to help a person plan meals that minimize symptoms and ensure all nutritional needs are met.

When the most extreme cases of gastroparesis lead to severe nausea, vomiting, and dehydration, urgent care may be required at a medical facility where IV fluids can be given.

Several prescription medications are available to treat gastroparesis. A combination of medications may be used to find the most effective treatment.

Metoclopramide (Reglan) stimulates stomach muscle contractions to help with gastric emptying. Metoclopramide also helps reduce nausea and vomiting. The medication is taken 20 to 30 minutes before meals and at bedtime. Possible side effects of metoclopramide include fatigue, sleepiness, and depression. Currently, this is the only medication approved by the FDA for treatment of gastroparesis. However, the FDA has placed a black box warning on this medication because of rare reports of it causing an irreversible neurologic side effect called tardive dyskinesia—a disorder that affects movement.

Erythromycin is an antibiotic that, prescribed at low doses, may improve gastric emptying. Like metaclopramide, erythromycin works by increasing the contractions that move food through the stomach. Possible side effects of erythromycin include nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.

Other medications may be used to treat symptoms and problems related to gastroparesis. For example, medications known as antiemetics are used to help control nausea and vomiting.

Botulinum Toxin is a nerve blocking agent also known as Botox. After passing an endoscope into the stomach, a health care provider injects the Botox into the pylorus, the opening from the stomach into the duodenum. Botox is supposed to help keep the pylorus open for longer periods of time and improve symptoms of gastroparesis. Although some initial research trials showed modest improvement in gastroparesis symptoms and the rate of gastric emptying following the injections, other studies have failed to show the same degree of effectiveness of the Botox injections.

Gastric Electrical Stimulation may be effective for some people whose nausea and vomiting do not improve with dietary changes or medications. A gastric neurostimulator is a surgically implanted, battery-operated device that sends mild electrical pulses to the stomach muscles to help control nausea and vomiting. Dr. Jones makes several tiny incisions in the abdomen and inserts a laparoscope—a thin tube with a tiny video camera attached. The camera sends a magnified image from inside the stomach to a video monitor, giving the gastroenterologist a close-up view of the tissues. Once implanted, the settings on the battery-operated device can be adjusted to determine the settings that best control symptoms.

Jejunostomy can be prescribed if medications and dietary changes don’t work, and the person is losing weight or requires frequent hospitalization for dehydration. In this treatment, Dr. Jones may recommend surgically placing a feeding tube through the abdominal wall directly into a part of the small intestine called the jejunum. The surgical procedure is known as a jejunostomy. The feeding tube bypasses the stomach and delivers a special liquid food with nutrients directly into the jejunum. The jejunostomy is used only when gastroparesis is extremely severe.

When gastroparesis is so severe that dietary measures and other treatments are not helping, a health care provider may recommend parenteral nutrition—an IV liquid food mixture supplied through a special tube in the chest. The surgeon inserts a thin, flexible tube called a catheter into a chest vein, with the catheter opening outside the skin. A bag containing liquid nutrients is attached to the catheter, and the nutrients are transported through the catheter into the chest vein and into the bloodstream. This approach is a less preferable alternative to a jejunostomy and is usually a temporary treatment to get through a difficult period of gastroparesis.

How is gastroparesis treated if a person has diabetes?
An elevated blood glucose level directly interferes with normal stomach emptying, so good blood glucose control in people with diabetes is important. However, gastroparesis can make blood glucose control difficult. When food that has been delayed in the stomach finally enters the small intestine and is absorbed, blood glucose levels rise. Gastric emptying is unpredictable with gastroparesis, causing a person’s blood glucose levels to be erratic and difficult to control.

The primary treatment goals for gastroparesis related to diabetes are to improve gastric emptying and regain control of blood glucose levels. In addition to the dietary changes and treatments already described, a health care provider will likely adjust the person’s insulin regimen.

To better control blood glucose, people with diabetes and gastroparesis may need to

  • Take insulin more often or change the type of insulin they take
  • Take insulin after meals, instead of before
  • Check blood glucose levels frequently after eating and administer insulin when necessary

Dr. Jones will give specific instructions for taking insulin based on an individual patient’s needs and the severity of gastroparesis.

In some cases, a dietitian may suggest eating several liquid or puréed meals a day until gastroparesis symptoms improve and blood glucose levels are more stable.