Many of us have experienced bouts of nausea, abdominal pain and even acid reflux or vomiting. But when symptoms include feeling full after just a few bites, causing changes in blood sugar, weight loss or malnutrition, it could be something more – namely Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition that affects the normal spontaneous movement of the muscles (motility) in your stomach. August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month.

You may have never heard of Gastroparesis, but it affects more than 1.5 million Americans and within that number 100,000 are suffering from severe cases of this disease, in which food moves through the stomach slower than normal. Often this disorder results in severe, chronic nausea and vomiting, bloating, fullness, premature fullness or abdominal pain that available drugs may not adequately control. In fact, several studies have revealed that nearly 30,000 patients receiving standard medical therapies fail to find relief for their symptoms and often patients require some form of feeding tube to ensure adequate nutrition. What is also unique to this disease is that is affects at least 20% of people with Type 1 Diabetes. While it also effects more women than men, 1 in 4 adults have symptoms that resemble Gastroparesis.

In the average healthy person’s stomach, you will find that the those muscles contract to help move the partially digested food to the small intestine where there is further digestion and nutrient intake in the body. But for someone with Gastroparesis this doesn’t occur, or at least not properly. You may have even heard of this disorder referred to as stomach paralysis. When a person with this disorder eats food their stomach not only can’t help break down the food, but also the stomach can’t naturally empty itself. This complication is what causes all the uncomfortable and sudden symptoms of nausea, vomiting, blood sugar issues and eventually malnutrition.
The causes of Gastroparesis may be unknown for some cases, but there are several contributing factors that can lead to its diagnosis. Factors include uncontrolled diabetes (1 or 2), medications, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple sclerosis, stomach surgeries, viral infections, hypothyroidism, eating disorders, as well as cancer and psychological disorders. While there are a range of factors that may be at the root of this and lead to a diagnosis, Gastroparesis is still incurable.

The good news about a Gastroparesis diagnosis is that although non-curable, it is manageable. Once the underlying cause is found, physicians can help with a plan of management and treatment of the symptoms specific to the individual. Treatment can vary and sometimes many different therapies are used. There are different medication offerings including some to help increase contractions and emptying of the stomach. Other medications help with the symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Some living with this disorder will reach a state of malnutrition that will require feeding tubes or intravenous (IV) forms of nutrition to help them get essential caloric intake and nutrition along with helping to keep them hydrated.

While symptoms of gastroparesis can mimic other illnesses or disorders, a patient can help speed their diagnosis by talking candidly with their healthcare provider and providing as many details as possible about their symptoms. Once a healthcare provider has enough information they may decide to run diagnostic testing to confirm a diagnosis. Radioisotope Gastric Emptying Scans are one of the tests a doctor might request. This test has the patient eat food containing a radioisotope that can show up on a scan. This helps to see if food is fully leaving the stomach. Other testing may include ultrasound or upper endoscopy. An upper endoscopy is a test where a long, thin and flexible tube is inserted into the mouth to better asses the esophagus and stomach and look for abnormalities.

If you or someone you know is struggling with symptoms you read about today, talk with your healthcare provider. The more you can share with them about what you are experiencing the better they can help to find you relief and treatment for what may be ailing you. Although Gastroparesis can’t be cured, one’s quality of life can be greatly enhanced with proper treatment. So, before you write your symptoms off as just a stomach ache or acid reflux, don’t hesitate to get it checked out. The more people who seek treatment and advocate for their health, the closer we can get to persistently advocating for a cure. Gastroparesis is a real pain in the stomach. Let’s work together to support and raise awareness of this draining disease to help find a cure to help them heal, not hate their guts.