Did you know that Gastroparesis was officially included in the National Health Observances Calendar in the year 2016? This day is celebrated to raise and spread awareness of this common gastrointestinal disorder.
What is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a medical condition consisting of a paresis (partial paralysis) of the stomach, resulting in food remaining in the stomach for an abnormally long time. Normally, the stomach contracts to move food down into the small intestine for additional digestion. The vagus nerve controls these contractions. Gastroparesis may occur when the vagus nerve is damaged and the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not properly function. Food then moves slowly or stops moving through the digestive tract. It is a gastrointestinal disorder that causes mild to severe symptoms in the afflicted person. In some rare cases, gastroparesis can also turn life threatening, when ignored and neglected.
It is imperative to treat and diagnose the disease in its early stages. And, this is precisely the goal of Gastroparesis Awareness Month, when the medical fraternity hopes to promote and raise awareness regarding this disease and help in funding and supporting patients and their families in overcoming the condition.
How Does Gastroparesis Develop?
The stomach muscles in healthy people use strong contractions to pass out food through the digestive tract. However, in those suffering from gastroparesis, the muscles are weakened and the stomach struggles to empty itself. Gastroparesis generally occurs when the nerves to the stomach are damaged or do not function normally.
This condition, when left untreated, can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels as well as nutritional deficits. Some patients also report frequent nausea and vomiting. A few common symptoms include:
- Sudden weight loss
- Reduced appetite
- Feeling full after a few morsels of food
- Excruciating abdominal pain
Though not much is known about what causes this condition, there have been several documented causes of gastroparesis, which are:
- Multiple sclerosis
- Mismanaged diabetes
- Botched gastric surgery
- Parkinson’s disease
- Consumption of narcotic pain-relievers
- Underlying conditions such as scleroderma and/or amyloidosis
Due to the lack of extensive knowledge of the causes of the condition, medical experts across the globe urge for more funding for clinical research on the subject.
Despite the fact there is a lot to learn about the causes of gastroparesis, doctors and researchers have been able to establish a list of risk factors that one should be mindful of. A few of these risk factors include:
- Radiation therapy
- Abdominal surgery
- Medicines that restrict the ability of the stomach to empty
- Viral infections
Misconceptions About Gastroparesis
There are many misconceptions that circulate about not just gastroparesis, but also those who suffer from it.
Myth 1: It is a very common myth that gastroparesis is an eating disorder, which is not the case. This gastrointestinal disease can leave people with a feeling of fullness and prevent them from eating normally. Certain patients also vomit soon after eating. It is therefore paramount for those who suffer from the condition to be rather careful about what they eat since the condition leads to weight loss and malnutrition.
Myth 2: One other myth is that people suffering from this condition are outright lazy. However, this is due to the fact that they struggle to get enough nutrition and hence lack the energy to perform even mundane activities. Symptoms such as nausea and dizziness also make it difficult for those suffering from the condition to live a normal life.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Gastric or duodenal manometry, abdominal scans, and gastric emptying scan are performed to diagnose the condition. Once diagnosed your doctor will prescribe antiemetics such as trimethobenzamide and prochlorperazine to help with nausea and vomiting. Motility agents such as metoclopramide or erythromycin may be prescribed to help empty the stomach quickly. Your doctor will also ask you to change your eating habits to help ease the condition.
Gastroparesis is not life threatening as long as it is managed effectively. If you experience any of the above mentioned symptoms, be sure to schedule an appointment with your general physician to rule out gastroparesis.