Gastroparesis is a rare condition in which the stomach fails to work properly. It’s responsible for moving food through the upper digestive tract using strong contractions. When you suffer from gastroparesis, the stomach isn’t able to move contents into the small intestine. This can cause symptoms like vomiting, nausea, bloating, abdominal pain, and reflux.
When a gastroenterologist suspects gastroparesis, they may order a gastric emptying study or an upper GI to confirm the diagnosis. Once they are certain gastroparesis is present, and the stomach is unable to efficiently move foods, they will develop a treatment plan that may start with making dietary changes.
Gastroparesis is chronic and will not go away. The goal of treatment is to help reduce and manage symptoms. Most people need a combination of treatments. Dietary changes are beneficial for most. These include eating smaller meals more frequently, reducing your intake of fat and fiber, and consuming liquid calories when needed. Medications may be used along with dietary changes to help control nausea and encourage the stomach to contract.
But what if dietary changes and medications fail to control gastroparesis symptoms? Then, surgical treatment becomes an option. Here are some of the procedure options.
- Pyloroplasty – This minimally invasive procedure helps to open up the valve at the bottom of the stomach. This allows the contents to pass easily into the small intestine.
- Gastric Nerve Stimulator – A device containing electrodes is placed in the wall of the stomach. Electrodes carry impulses to the stomach wall. For some patients, these impulse contractions help relieve nausea, bloating, and vomiting.
- Parenteral Nutrition – IV nutrition is an option if your gastroparesis is severe and other treatments are not helping. Parenteral nutrition helps deliver nutrients in a liquid form directly into the bloodstream. It may be a short-term option until you can consume foods again. It may also be used to provide nutrition while waiting for a feeding tube to be placed.
- Gastrostomy Tube – The G-tube is a plastic tube placed in the stomach through the wall of the abdomen. The tube allows the stomach to vent air or drain fluid that can cause nausea, bloating, or distension of the abdomen. It may be used alone or as part of other procedures and treatment options.
- Jejunostomy Tube – The J-tube is inserted into the intestine through the wall of the abdomen. The plastic tube is designed to bypass the stomach and deliver nutrients directly into the intestines. It is often used to help meet nutritional needs when the stomach is not able to move food through into the intestines.
- Gastrectomy – As a last resort, a gastrectomy may be recommended to remove the stomach. A surgeon removes the malfunctioning or diseased stomach. This allows food to travel directly from the esophagus to the small intestine. However, even completely removing the stomach doesn’t always eliminate symptoms of gastroparesis like nausea and other symptoms.
Can gastroparesis be prevented?
In most cases, gastroparesis cannot be prevented. However, if you are diabetic, you can prevent or delay the nerve damage that causes gastroparesis. Keep your blood sugar levels inside a target range that your doctor will set for you. You can help manage your blood sugar levels by careful meal planning and being physically active in a way that is safe for you. Your doctor may also prescribe some medications that will help control your blood sugar levels.
What to Do If You Have Symptoms of Gastroparesis
Many times during a flare, patients go to the ER or nearby urgent care seeking relief. A general practitioner may prescribe pain medications including narcotics. However, this will not only mask the pain, but it can cause significant delays in recovering from a flare-up. Gastroparesis can be complex and you may need expertise from a GI specialist, a dietician, and other medical professionals. At Pinnacle GI Partners, we have the expertise and years of experience to help you manage your symptoms and treat gastroparesis. If you or your loved one is suffering from gastroparesis, please call us today and learn how you can benefit from our compassionate, comprehensive care.