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Gastroparesis is a disorder of the stomach. It can be due to weak muscles or nerves and usually affects the people suffering from diabetes. This article will highlight the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and the treatment of gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis is a muscular or nervous disorder of the stomach, which causes them to stop functioning normally. Primary symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting. Treatment usually involves dietary adaptations, drugs that stimulate the contraction of muscles, and less commonly, surgery.

Gastroparesis: An Overview

Generally, food is propelled along the digestive tract by strong muscular contractions.  Gastroparesis is a disease in which the normal movement (motility) of the muscles of the stomach is affected. This abnormality interferes with digestion and causes problems in blood sugar levels as well. The insufficient grinding of food by the stomach and inadequate emptying of food into the intestine from the stomach causes nausea and abdominal pain.

What Causes Gastroparesis?

Diabetes mellitus is the most common cause of gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis can be caused by various factors. These can be singular, or associated with muscular weakness of other parts of the digestive tract, such as the small intestine, colon and esophagus. Common causes include:

  • Diabetes mellitus – the most common cause, resulting in damage to the nerves controlling stomach muscles.
  • Idiopathic gastroparesis – the second most common cause, where no definitive reason for muscular abnormalities can be found. This is mostly seen in young and middle-aged women.
  • Diseases of the stomach’s muscles (such as scleroderma)
  • Damage to the nerves that control stomach muscles (such as the vagus nerve)
  • Pancreatitis – reflexes sent from the pancreas to the stomach prevent the muscles from functioning smoothly.
  • Imbalance of minerals in blood (potassium, magnesium, calcium)
  • Narcotic analgesics
  • Thyroid disease

Signs and Symptoms of Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is one of the disorders of the gastrointestinal tract which usually present at early stages of the disease. Common signs and symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Feeling of fullness even after eating very little amount of food
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Generalized body aches and weakness – due to malnutrition
  • Changes in blood sugar levels

Examinations And Tests For The Diagnosis Of Gastroparesis

Different medical tests are used to diagnose and confirm gastroparesis. These are as follows:

Gastric Emptying Study

This is the most important diagnostic test for gastroparesis. A light meal, such as toast and eggs, containing small amounts of radioactive material is given to the patient to eat. A scanner placed over the abdomen detects the path of the meal as it passes through the digestive tract. The rate of emptying of the stomach is monitored.

Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Endoscopy

An endoscope (thin, flexible tube with a camera at one end is used to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach and upper part of the small intestine (duodenum).

Computerized Tomography (CT) Enterography and Magnetic Resonance (MR) Enterography

These non-invasive tests are highly sensitive and efficient in detecting inflammations or obstructions of the intestines. MR enterography is radiation-free as well.

Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Series

A white chalk-like liquid (barium meal) is given to the patient to drink, which coats the digestive tract and allows abnormalities to be spotted via X-rays.

Breath test

The patient drinks a little sugar water. The amount of gas processed (metabolized) by the body is then measured in the breath.

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