Gastroparesis, also called delayed gastric emptying, is a disorder that disrupts digestion. Literally, it translates to “stomach paralysis”. Normally, stomach muscles contract to break up food and move it along through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract to the small intestine. Gastroparesis causes abnormal movement of the muscles in the stomach, which slows or stops the movement of food through the GI tract.
What causes gastroparesis?
In most cases, healthcare providers cannot identify the exact cause, even with extensive testing. Idiopathic gastroparesis refers to gastroparesis of unknown cause.
Diabetes is the most common known cause. The vagus nerve controls the movement of food through the GI tract. Diabetes can damage the vagus nerve if blood glucose levels remain high over a long period of time. When the vagus nerve is damaged, the muscles in the stomach don’t work normally and gastroparesis sets in.
What are the signs of gastroparesis?
Symptoms typically occur during and after a meal. Symptoms may vary person to person and can include:
- Early feeling of fullness when eating
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Abdominal bloating
- Lack of appetite
- Erratic blood sugar levels
- Weight loss
What are some complications of gastroparesis?
Food staying in the stomach too long can cause a few complications. First, food in the stomach can ferment, leading to overgrowth of bacteria. Food could alternatively solidify, forming a bezoar, or hardened mass, that blocks the small intestine.
For people with diabetes, gastroparesis complicates the management of blood sugars with unpredictable spikes and dips due to delayed digestion. Poorly managed diabetes damages blood vessels, potentially causing problems in the cardiovascular system, eyes, kidneys, feet and nerves.
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