Gastroparesis - A Cause of Abnormal Muscular Contractions

by Sam Malone

What is gastroparesis? Gastroparesis is a term used to describe a weak stomach. In order to digest the food that is consumed, the stomach has to churn the food and liquid in it and break it into small fragments before pushing it into the duodenum, where the small intestine's role and the digestion process starts. In order to propel the food into the small intestine, a small electrical impulse is passed down the vagus nerve into the lower part of the stomach to grind the food and expel it little by little. Gastroparesis is a condition where there is a disruption of the nerve signals sent and the stomach is too slow in emptying its contents down the digestive tract.

Causes of gastroparesis could vary from diabetes to gastrectomy and use of medication that interferes with nerve signals. In people with diabetes, hypoglycemia can damage the vagus nerve and disrupt its signals. Years of high blood glucose that goes unregulated can eventually lead to gastroparesis, which, in turn, adds to the poor control of blood sugar. Hypothyroidism and other metabolic disorders are also known to lead to gastroparesis. Any surgery involving the stomach or esophagus can damage the vagus nerve and slow its normal functioning. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia are eating disorders that can cause decreased motility of the pulverized food particles from the stomach. Fortunately, in the case of eating disorders that are caught early on, once treatment for gastroparesis begins, gastric emptying regains its normal pace soon after adequate and regular food ingestion is resumed. Most patients with systemic sclerosis experience some degree of gastro intestinal dysfunction and motility disorders due to the connective tissue disorder. Idiopathic cases of gastroparesis where no known causes can be established are also fairly common.

Symptoms of gastroparesis in both children and adults include a feeling of fullness after eating just a few morsels of food, belching, and regurgitation of food. In some cases heartburn, bloating, nausea and vomiting and a dull ache in the upper part of the stomach are also reported. Unexplained weight loss and lack of appetite are other commonly seen symptoms. Diagnosis of gastroparesis is best done with a stomach emptying test where the food containing small amounts of a radioactive marker is consumed and the progress of the food with the radioisotope through the gastro intestinal tract is followed through a scan. A recent innovation in the diagnosis of gastroparesis is the ingestion of a “smart pill,” a data collection device in a capsule. The device collects and sends information about the movement of food in the digestive tract to a receiver worn around the patient's wrist or neck. Once connected to a computer, the receiver can give the doctor information on the status of the digestive tract. Endoscopy and ultrasound may be used by doctors to rule out any obstructions in the stomach or other parts of the digestive tract. As mentioned earlier, symptoms of gastroparesis in children are the same as those in adults, though in a majority of the cases, the causes of gastroparesis in children are not known.

Treatment for gastroparesis starts with changes in dietary habits. Smaller and more frequent meals replace large, heavy meals. Medication in the treatment of gastroparesis varies from drugs that stimulate stomach muscles so as to contract more and facilitate emptying to antibiotics that can help clear infection in the stomach. Most medications help in relieving symptoms and to manage the condition. In the case of diabetics with gastroparesis, insulin levels have to be adjusted according to the blood glucose levels. Medication to correct thyroid disorders in those with an underactive thyroid will help in the treatment of gastroparesis.

A gastroparesis diet plan should include foods that are easy to digest and avoid fats and fiber. Soups and pureed fruits and vegetables are easily tolerated by those with gastroparesis. Since nausea and vomiting are symptoms of the disorder, care should be taken to include a lot of liquid food in the diet plan so that dehydration does not occur. Home remedies for gastroparesis suggest the inclusion of juices, milk shakes and smoothies that are easy to digest. It is best to avoid food rich in fiber like nuts, fruits like oranges and berries, and vegetables like broccoli and Brussels sprouts as they are not easily digested. Nutritional supplements in the form of proteins shakes or vitamin capsules can be used to compensate for the limited intake of food. Diet for gastroparesis in diabetics should include easy to digest foods like white rice, low fat yoghurt, cooked vegetables like zucchini or eggplant, and grilled seafood so that the meals are balanced and the body gets all the vital nutrients and minerals it needs.

In the search for a cure for gastroparesis, researchers have found that botulinum toxin can help ease the symptoms of gastroparesis. Further research is required to establish the efficacy of this line of treatment. Initial reports suggest that injecting botox in the stomach's pylorus spincter muscle accelerates gastric emptying. Yet another line of treatment involves implantation of a battery operated device called a gastric neurotransmitter in the patient's body to emit mild electrical impulses in order to control vomiting and nausea that occur in patients with gastroparesis. Reports of marginal reduction of symptoms with traditional Chinese medicine using herbal treatments and acupuncture have to be evaluated before they are accepted on a global level.

In severe cases of gastroparesis, a feeding tube called jejunostomy may be inserted through surgery to bypass the stomach and feed nutrients directly into the small intestine. Once digested, the nutrients from the special liquid feed put into the tube are passed on to the blood stream. Parenteral nutrition is a more temporary solution than the jejunostomy tube, to be used in cases of severe gastroparesis, which does not respond to other forms of treatment. A catheter is attached to a chest vein to deliver nutrient liquid directly into the blood stream, without the intermediary of the digestive tract. However, this needs to be closely monitored as the risk of developing bacterial or fungal infection and blood clot formation are high.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.

Warning: The reader of this article should exercise all precautionary measures while following instructions on the home remedies from this article. Avoid using any of these products if you are allergic to it. The responsibility lies with the reader and not with the site or the writer.
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