Gastroparesis is a serious condition in which a nerve disturbance interferes with or slows the movement of food out of the stomach and into the intestinal tract. Doctors diagnose this as delayed gastric emptying after ruling out other causes, such as a mechanical obstruction. People with gastroparesis complain of nausea, vomiting, pain, early satiety, and bloating. Hospitals use various means to assess the condition — for example, through a gastric emptying study or a scintigraphic gastric accommodation test. This condition can have many causes.
People who have had poorly controlled type 1 or type 2 diabetes for some time may develop gastroparesis after they develop peripheral nerve damage caused by complications of diabetes. The increased incidence of diabetes in Western countries makes gastroparesis more likely there. The desire to avoid this serious complication should strengthen a person's motivation to manage their diabetes.
Some people develop gastroparesis as a side effect of prescribed medications. For example, certain painkillers may trigger this stomach problem. If an individual becomes bloated, vomits, or experiences other disturbing symptoms after taking one of these medicines, they should return immediately to the prescribing doctor. If gastroparesis is caused by a reaction to medication, the condition should go away after the person stops taking it.
The frequent incidence of nausea and vomiting in people with migraines has led to the idea that both migraines and gastroparesis may arise from autonomic nervous system dysfunction. Gastroparesis during a migraine is thought to be caused by increased sympathetic nervous system activity, a decreased parasympathetic system (via the vagus nerve), or both. Gastroparesis may then hamper migraine treatment by causing the person to delay taking their migraine medication.
Usually, a mention of Parkinson's disease brings to mind uncontrollable shaking or labored mobility, but this disease can also affect gastric function. In addition to progressively damaging the brain, Parkinson's may trigger other problems that impair the functioning of the stomach and other internal organs. One example is scleroderma, a connective tissue disorder.
Autoimmune diseases develop when the body's immune system goes into a self-harming mode. Instead of enhancing immunity against infections, this natural defense mechanism attacks the organs it should be protecting. The nerves that regulate gastric emptying can be damaged and no longer work properly. Gastroparesis is just one of many serious health problems someone who has an autoimmune disease might need to manage.
Sometimes people undergo surgical operations on the stomach to reduce their weight or a gastrectomy for a complicated ulcer or tumor. Even the most skilled surgeon may accidentally damage the vagus nerve or parasympathetic system, which controls the smooth muscle in the stomach. Harm to this nerve may open the way to gastroparesis. The disease may not develop immediately after the operation but may present months or even years later.
Researchers have found a clear link between some common eating disorders and gastroparesis. In particular, people who have anorexia nervosa or bulimia stand an increased chance of getting this disease. The damage can often be reversed once the underlying eating disorder has been diagnosed and successfully treated by a doctor.
It is possible for a person to develop symptoms of gastroparesis during the course of, or following, an infection — typically viral. Since not every infection can cause gastroparesis, a complete evaluation may be necessary to identify its nature. If gastroparesis turns out to be linked to infection, it will likely resolve once the infection is cured.
The connection between emotional and physical health is a subject that attracts a great deal of interest. At the simplest level, most people know that getting tense or nervous can affect bodily functions, including digestion. Deep psychological problems can have a more severe impact on physical well-being. Prescribed antidepressant medicines may also set off gastroparesis.
Despite advances in medical science over the last 50 years, doctors are often unable to identify the cause of gastroparesis. These cases are described as idiopathic gastroparesis and account for a third of chronic cases. Idiopathic means that none of the tests and analyses could pinpoint any particular cause, which makes it much harder to determine the best treatment.
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