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Are You Aware of Gastroparesis? Here’s What You Need to Know

August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month and is designed to shed light on gastroparesis diagnosis, treatment, and overall quality of life. The goal is to help people understand what gastroparesis is and to help patients and their families better manage the condition while encouraging preventive strategies. If you or a loved one suffer from gastroparesis while in hospice care in Santa Clara and elsewhere, keep reading to learn more about this condition.

What is Gastroparesis?

This is a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of your stomach muscles. Normally, strong muscle contractions push food through the digestive tract. But in people who have gastroparesis, their stomach’s motility either doesn’t work at all or has slowed down significantly. In turn, this prevents the stomach from emptying properly. The cause is still unknown at this time. Many times, it’s a side effect of diabetes, while others develop the condition after undergoing surgery, says the Mayo Clinic.

Slow gastric emptying can also result from certain medications, such as antidepressants, opioid pain relievers, and high blood pressure and allergy meds. If you already have gastroparesis, keep in mind that these medications can make your condition worse. Gastroparesis tends to interfere with normal digestion, causing abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting. It can also interfere with blood sugar levels and nutrition. There is currently no cure for gastroparesis, but making dietary and medication changes can help.

Who Gets It?

Gastroparesis is a fairly uncommon condition, with 10 men and 40 women out of 100,000 people suffering from it, according to the NIH. That said, symptoms that mask themselves as gastroparesis happen in one out of four U.S. adults. This is why proper examination and diagnosis are important in getting treated. You are at a higher risk of developing gastroparesis if you:

  • Have diabetes
  • Recently had surgery on your stomach, esophagus, or small intestine, as this can cause injury to the vagus nerve (responsible for controlling the stomach and small intestine muscles)
  • Have had certain cancer treatments on your chest or stomach areas, such as radiation therapy.

People who have gastroparesis also tend to suffer from the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Scleroderma
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nervous system disorders (Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc.)
  • GERD
  • Eating disorders
  • Amyloidosis

So, what does gastroparesis feel like? Poor functioning of stomach muscles results in food sitting in your stomach for long periods of time. This can give you a stomachache, or make you feel nauseous. Bloating and distending of the stomach also can occur, along with acid reflux. That’s because when stomach acid back-washes into the esophagus, it resembles heartburn.

Only a small amount of people say their persistent stomach pain interferes with their daily life. Most people may just feel mild discomfort. It all depends on the person. Some may feel more pain due to more sensitized nerves, which can also be related to gastroparesis.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Gastroparesis?

From nausea and weight loss to acid reflux and bloating, there are many signs and symptoms of gastroparesis. Just keep in mind that these signs can also be consistent with other conditions, another reason why it’s imperative to see a doctor if you are concerned.

  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain and bloating
  • Feeling of fullness after just eating a few bites
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Acid reflux
  • Changes in levels of blood sugar
  • Lack of appetite
  • Malnutrition
  • Weight loss

It’s worth noting that many people who have gastroparesis don’t even know they have it because there aren’t any noticeable symptoms.

There are many complications that can arise with gastroparesis, such as severe dehydration due to ongoing vomiting. Poor appetite can lead to malnutrition — again, often due to severe vomiting that renders you unable to absorb enough nutrients over the course of the day. Additionally, undigested food in your stomach tends to harden into a bezoar or solid mass, inducing nausea and vomiting. This can actually be life-threatening if food is prevented from passing into the small intestine due to this mass.

While gastroparesis does not cause diabetes, frequent changes in how much food passes into the small bowel may lead to unpredictable changes in blood sugar levels. These variations are what can worsen diabetes. Inadequate control of blood sugar levels will in turn make gastroparesis worse. It’s a vicious cycle. Finally, many people who suffer from this condition also have a decreased quality of life, due to symptoms that make it hard to work, do routine tasks, and socialize.

Getting diagnosed and treated is imperative. Your doctor will perform an exam and order imaging tests to check your stomach for any physical obstructions. If no obstruction is found, gastric motility tests will be ordered to evaluate stomach muscle activity. Imaging tests include upper endoscopy, capsule endoscopy, upper GI series, CT scan, MRI, and ultrasound, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice

Contact us now at 888-978-1306 to learn more about how we can help manage gastroparesis and other conditions as part of our hospice program in Santa Clara and elsewhere.