What is gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis, which means partial paralysis of the stomach, is a disease in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal way. If you have this condition, damaged nerves and muscles don’t function with their normal strength and coordination — slowing the movement of contents through your digestive system.

This is a common condition in people who have had diabetes for a long time, but it may also occur in other situations. Gastroparesis can be misdiagnosed and is sometimes mistaken for an ulcer, heartburn or an allergic reaction. In non-diabetic people, the condition may relate to acid reflux.

What causes gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is caused by nerve injury, including damage to the vagus nerve. In its normal state, the vagus nerve contracts (tightens) the stomach muscles to help move food through the digestive tract. In cases of gastroparesis, the vagus nerve is damaged by diabetes. This prevents the muscles of the stomach and intestine from working properly, which keeps food from moving from the stomach to the intestines.

Anatomy of the stomach | Cleveland Clinic

Anatomy of the stomach

Other causes of gastroparesis include:

  • Viral infections.
  • Gastric (abdominal) surgery with injury to the vagus nerve.
  • Medications such as narcotics and some antidepressants.
  • 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).

What are the symptoms of gastroparesis?

The symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • Heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux (backup of stomach contents into the esophagus).
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting undigested food.
  • Early satiety (feeling full quickly when eating).
  • Abdominal bloating (enlargement).
  • Chronic abdominal pain.
  • Poor appetite and weight loss.
  • Poor blood sugar control.

What are the complications of gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis can cause several problems:

  • Food that stays in the stomach too long can ferment, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.
  • Food in the stomach can harden into a solid mass called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause blockages in the stomach that keep food from passing into the small intestine.
  • People who have both diabetes and gastroparesis may have other problems as well, because blood glucose levels rise quickly when food finally leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine.
  • Dehydration (extreme thirst).
  • Malnutrition (poor nutrition).

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