A good majority of the patients we see come in with some type of abdominal pain. Stomach discomfort is extremely common and can be caused by a multitude of things. There’s celiac disease, IBS, and ulcers, to name a few, but have you ever heard of gastroparesis? If not, we’re here to teach you for National Gastroparesis Awareness Month!
Understanding the condition
Gastroparesis is a condition that literally translates to “paralyzed stomach”— “gastro” means stomach, and “paresis” means paralyzed. It’s also nicknamed “delayed stomach emptying” because with gastroparesis, your stomach is slow to empty its contents into the small intestine.
This condition is caused by damage or injury to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve tightens the stomach muscles to help move food through our digestive tracts, but when the nerve is damaged, it keeps food from moving from the stomach to the intestines.
Other possible causes include:
- Viral infections
- Gastric surgery
- Medications like narcotics and antidepressants
- Amyloidosis – deposits of protein fibers in tissues and organs.
- Scleroderma – connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and organs.
Gastroparesis is accompanied by a slew of unpleasant symptoms, including:
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Abdominal bloating
- Chronic stomach pain
- Poor blood sugar control
- Loss of appetite and weight
Although gastroparesis is not super common, it often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed because the symptoms are so common. In fact, about one in four adults in the U.S. suffer from similar symptoms. Sometimes, gastroparesis can be incorrectly diagnosed as an ulcer, heartburn, acid reflux, or allergic reaction.
While the exact number of people living with gastroparesis is unknown, it has surged in young women in the U.S. since 2014. In many cases, it’s autoimmune-related and associated with thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus.
In addition to the overall discomfort of constant stomach issues, and the toll it can take on your day-to-day life and emotions, gastroparesis can cause several health complications.
Here are five problems the condition can trigger:
- Food that stays in the stomach too long can ferment and cause bacterial growth.
- Hardened food in the stomach can turn into a solid mass called a bezoar. Bezoars can block food from passing into the small intestine.
- Diabetics who have gastroparesis may have issues with blood glucose levels rising quickly when food finally passes through the stomach to the small intestine.
If you’ve been experiencing the symptoms mentioned above and haven’t found relief, you may want to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having gastroparesis. Physicians can get to the bottom of your diagnosis by giving a physical examination, ordering blood tests, and testing other markers within your digestive system. Medications like antibiotics and anti-nausea may help control the side effects; other times, surgery may be necessary.
If your abdominal pain doesn’t subside within hours or it starts to feel unbearable, please come see us. Our team of highly trained ER doctors and nurses will help figure out the root cause and give you treatment. Our doors stay open 24/7, 365 days a year, and we’re here to assist with any medical need.