Gastroparesis: Living with a Slow Stomach

Health Conditions Jun 05, 2022

Gastroparesis, also referred to as delayed gastric emptying, is a condition characterized by partial paralysis of the stomach, which slows or stops the movement of food through your digestive system. If you’ve been diagnosed with gastroparesis, you are not alone. While the disorder itself is relatively uncommon, with only about 10 men and 40 women out of every 100,000 people diagnosed, a surprisingly large number of adults in the US live with similar symptoms to gastroparesis. It’s also a common condition in people who have been managing diabetes for a long time, though it can also occur in other situations, too. Though living with gastroparesis can be challenging, there are several treatment options to help manage its symptoms.

Causes and Symptoms of Gastroparesis

Although the cause of gastroparesis is often unknown, it may occur when the vagus nerve is damaged. This is the nerve that causes the muscles of the stomach to contract in order to breakdown food and help it move from the stomach into the small intestines.

Other potential causes of gastroparesis include:

  • Viral infection
  • Certain medications, including some painkillers and antidepressants
  • Abdominal surgery
  • Amyloidosis, a condition in which protein fibers build up in tissues and organs
  • Scleroderma, a connective tissue disorder
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Nervous system diseases such as Parkinson’s or Multiple Sclerosis
  • Hypothyroidism 

Common symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • Heartburn or reflux
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Bloating
  • Recurring abdominal pain
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Poor blood sugar control

Potential Complications of Slow Stomach Emptying

Gastroparesis is a serious condition. Not only can it have a significant impact on your overall quality of life, but it can also put you at risk for other health complications. When food sits in your stomach for a long time, it can ferment and cause an overgrowth of bacteria. Stagnant and undigested food that stays in your stomach can also harden and form into a “bezoar” – a solid mass that can cause a blockage in the stomach and prevent food from emptying into the intestines entirely. For those with diabetes, gastroparesis can also cause unpredictable blood sugar changes. Additional concerns include dehydration due to recurring vomiting and malnutrition as a result of poorly digested and absorbed food.

Treatments for Gastroparesis

While there is no cure for gastroparesis, there are many different ways to manage its symptoms and keep it under control. If you’re living with gastroparesis, you many need:

  • Medications to help stimulate stomach muscle movement and minimize nausea and vomiting.
  • Surgery to help relieve symptoms if medications aren’t effective enough.
  • Tube feeding through a jejunostomy tube or “j-tube” – a feeding tube that enters directly into your small intestines, bypassing your stomach altogether, to help you feel your best and make sure you get the nutrition your body needs.

For people with gastroparesis or other gastrointestinal issues, specialized liquid nutrition may be needed, such as 100% whey peptide-based formulas. These formulas are made with select nutrients that have been broken down for easier stomach emptying and digestion. They are usually better tolerated and may be consumed orally or infused through a feeding tube. If you’re using or considering using a feeding tube, talk to your healthcare provider about the which type of tube feeding formula is best for you.