Gastroparesis is thought to be the result of a problem with the nerves and muscles controlling the emptying of the stomach.
If these nerves are damaged, the muscles of your stomach may not work properly and the movement of food can slow down.
Symptoms of gastroparesis
Symptoms of gastroparesis may include:
- feeling full very quickly when eating
- feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
- tummy (abdominal) pain or discomfort
These symptoms can be mild or severe, and tend to come and go.
When to see your GP
See your GP if you're experiencing symptoms of gastroparesis, as it can lead to some potentially serious complications.
- dehydration from repeated vomiting
- gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) – where stomach acid leaks out of your stomach and into your gullet
- malnutrition – when your body is not getting enough nutrients
- unpredictable blood sugar levels – this is a particular risk in people with diabetes
Causes of gastroparesis
In many cases of gastroparesis, there's no obvious cause.
Known causes of gastroparesis include:
- poorly controlled type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes
- a complication of some types of surgery – such as weight loss (bariatric) surgery or removal of part of the stomach (gastrectomy)
Other possible causes include:
- medication – such as opioid painkillers like morphine and some antidepressants
- Parkinson's disease – a condition in which part of the brain becomes progressively damaged over many years
- scleroderma – an uncommon disease that results in hard, thickened areas of skin, and sometimes problems with internal organs and blood vessels
- amyloidosis – a group of rare but serious diseases caused by deposits of abnormal protein in tissues and organs throughout the body
To diagnose gastroparesis, your GP will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and may arrange some blood tests. You may be referred to hospital for some tests.
Gastroparesis can't usually be cured, but dietary changes and medical treatment can help you control the condition.
Your GP or specialist looking after your care will discuss treatment options with you.
Advice for people with diabetes
Having gastroparesis means your food is being absorbed slowly and at times that can’t be predicted. If you also have diabetes, this can lead to wide swings in blood sugar levels.
The nerves to the stomach can be damaged by high levels of blood glucose. So it's important to keep your blood glucose levels under control if you have diabetes.
Your doctor can advise you about any changes you may need to make to your diet or medication.
If you're taking insulin, you may need to divide your dose before and after meals and inject into areas where absorption is typically slower, such as the thigh.
You'll also need to check your blood glucose levels regularly after you eat.