Ken Ota, D.O., is a resident at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix Family Medicine program.
Question: I was recently diagnosed with gastroparesis - delayed stomach emptying. Do you have any resources that can help me understand the diet or other treatments available to help with this condition?
Answer: Gastroparesis is arguably one of the most frustrating disorders of the stomach.
Since nausea, abdominal pain, and an early sensation of fullness after eating food are among the major symptoms associated with gastroparesis, it can be challenging to diagnose.
Physicians, of course, want to make a diagnosis as efficiently as possible in order to provide their patients with the best management options without much delay. Unfortunately, reaching the correct diagnosis and finding the right treatment may require some patience from both doctors and patients.
To better grasp the nature of this disorder it is important to understand that the root gastro refers to the stomach. Paresis is defined as impaired movement. So, gastroparesis is the inability of the stomach to move normally. The discomfort that patients experience with gastroparesis occurs because the stomach does not empty its contents into the small intestine in a physiological and timely manner.
Physicians understand the cause of this disorder to be a neuropathy, or nerve abnormality, of the stomach. Gastroparesis is usually seen in patients with poorly controlled diabetes mellitus. However, it may also be a side effect from medication use, a result of infection, or a complication from abdominal surgery. Gastroparesis may also be a manifestation of other systemic diseases. Often times there are many reasons for the condition.
Medical therapies do exist for patients with gastroparesis. However, the most important therapy is to work with your doctor to aggressively treat and control the underlying cause (i.e. diabetes mellitus neuropathy).
In some cases, the cause may not be known and efforts will need to be directed toward symptom management. A dietary recommendation for patients with gastroparesis is to eat very small meals that are low-fat, low-fiber four to five times per day with plenty of fluids during meals.
Also, attempting to supplement meals with calorie-containing liquids (i.e. protein shakes) will help maintain adequate caloric intake, while minimizing the symptoms of gastroparesis. The rationale behind this is that liquids still have normal transit-time through the stomach in patients with gastroparesis, while solid foods tend to slow down the stomach’s mobility thus worsening the symptoms.
If you have been diagnosed with gastroparesis, I suggest that you follow-up with your doctor regularly to review treatment options to maintain control of your symptoms and perhaps even cure them. Ask your doctor if prokinetics, antiemetics, acupuncture, or even surgery would be appropriate for you.
Two resources that are available on-line are:
As always, talk with your primary care physician before starting any specific therapies.
Reviewed August 2010