Referring Physicians >> Newsletters >> January 2017 Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Gastroparesis
Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Gastroparesis
Gastroparesis, which translates to “weak stomach,” is a condition where the stomach does not work properly. The stomach’s primary function is to move food through the upper digestive tract with strong contractions. In gastroparesis, the stomach has difficulty moving its contents into the small intestine. This leads to nausea, vomiting, bloating, reflux and abdominal pain.
The majority of patients we see with gastroparesis acquired the disease for an unknown reason (idiopathic); however, diabetic neuropathy and damage to the vagus nerve, often during prior esophagus or stomach surgery, are known causes. There is also some evidence to suggest gastroparesis can be caused by viruses, neurological disorders, autoimmune diseases, hypo and hyperthyroidism, mitochondrial disease, and eating disorders.
When patients have symptoms of gastroparesis, we often recommend a gastric emptying study to confirm the diagnosis. A gastric emptying study involves the patient eating a meal, usually scrambled eggs, labeled with trace amount of radioactive material. Scans are then taken of the patient at different time intervals, up to 4 hours, to watch the progression of the meal through the stomach. Calculating the remaining amount of stomach contents at the end of each interval will determine whether gastroparesis is present.
The goal for treatment of gastroparesis is to decrease symptoms like nausea or bloating. There is no cure for gastroparesis, and most people require a combination of treatments. Eating frequent, small meals that are low in fat and fiber can help minimize symptoms. Liquid calories, such as those in milkshakes, are usually well-tolerated. This is the primary reason that, despite having a nonfunctional GI tract, there are patients with gastroparesis who are overweight or have gained significant weight even as their nausea, vomiting or bloating have worsened. There are a variety of medications available to manage nausea and promote stomach contraction. Pain medications like opioids are not recommended, as they slow stomach emptying.
For more information
Gastroparesis is a frustrating and complex disease that requires expertise from gastroenterologists, dieticians and, in some cases, surgeons. Our surgery department has more than 15 years of experience caring for patients with gastroparesis. For questions about a patient or a referral, call the General Surgery Clinic at UW Health at The American Center at (608) 440-6300.