Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is a disorder that slows or stops the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. In a healthy digestive system, strong muscular contractions move food from the stomach through the digestive tract. However, with gastroparesis, the stomach muscles work poorly (or not at all), thus preventing the stomach from emptying properly.

Gastroparesis is a serious medical condition that can interfere with digestion, cause nausea and vomiting, and cause problems with blood sugar levels and nutrition. Unfortunately, there is no cure for gastroparesis, but there are therapies that can help to improve symptoms and offer hope for a better quality of life.

Causes and Risk Factors for Gastroparesis

It's not always clear what leads to gastroparesis. In fact, approximately 35% of cases of gastroparesis are idiopathic, meaning there is no known cause for the condition.

The most common known cause of gastroparesis is uncontrolled diabetes. People with diabetes have high levels of blood glucose. Over time, high blood glucose levels can damage the nerve that controls the stomach muscles (vagus nerve).

Other identifiable causes of gastroparesis include:

  • Gastric surgery with injury to the vagus nerve
  • Medications that can slow the digestive system, such as narcotics and some antidepressants
  • Nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis
  • Rare conditions such as: Amyloidosis (deposits of protein fibers in tissues and organs) and scleroderma (a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and internal organs).

Sign and 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.

Other symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
  • Abdominal pain and/or bloating
  • Lack of appetite
  • Changes in blood sugar levels
  • Weight loss and malnutrition

Because gastroparesis symptoms are similar to many other gastrointestinal conditions, accurate evaluation is critical to ensure proper treatment. That’s why it’s important to seek care from a healthcare expert experienced in the complex diagnosis and treatment of gastroparesisand other gastrointestinal conditions.