What is gastroparesis?
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Gastroparesis is also often referred to as delayed gastric emptying. The term “gastric” refers to the stomach. Usually, the stomach voids its contents in a disciplined fashion into the small intestine. In gastroparesis, the muscle contractions that allow the food to move along the digestive tract do not function normally and the stomach does not empty quickly enough. Gastroparesis is defined by long-term symptoms combined with postponed stomach emptying in the absence of any observable obstruction or blockage. The delayed stomach emptying is confirmed by a test.
What causes gastroparesis?
The cause of gastroparesis is often unclear. However, it has been observed that in many cases, gastroparesis is caused by damage to the vagus nerve (an important link from the gut to the brain.)
The vagus nerve is responsible for managing the intricate mechanisms in your digestive tract, including communicating to the muscles in your stomach when to contract and move food into the small intestine. An impaired vagus nerve cannot signal normally to your stomach muscles. This causes food to remain in your stomach for a longer period of time, rather than pushing into your small intestine to continue the digestion process.
Factors that cause vagus nerve damage can be attributed to diseases, such as diabetes, or by surgery to the stomach or small intestine.
Who is at risk of gastroparesis?
- People with diabetes
- People who have had abdominal or esophageal surgery
- People who have suffered an infection, or a virus
- Certain medications can slow the rate of stomach emptying, such as narcotic pain medications
- People with scleroderma (a connective tissue disease)
- People with nervous system diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease or multiple sclerosis
- People with hypothyroidism (low thyroid)
- Women are more likely to develop gastroparesis than men