Gastroparesis isn’t commonly known among the general public, yet it still impacts millions of people throughout the United States. So, what is it exactly? The disease is defined as delayed gastric emptying, with the term “gastric” simply referring to the stomach.
Typically, the stomach empties into the small intestines in a controlled manner. In gastroparesis, the muscle contractions–otherwise known as motility–that move substances through the digestive tract do not work properly and the stomach empties too slowly. The delayed stomach emptying is confirmed by a test.
Tyson Sievers, MD, M Physicians gastroenterologist, works with gastroparesis patients exhibiting a wide spectrum of symptom severity. The disease can be quite severe for some individuals, while others are hardly aware they have delayed gastric emptying.
There’s a pretty wide spectrum of symptomatology. Some people are very affected, other people are not as affected. It really varies depending on the person. Classically, it is a problem that is associated with Type 1 Diabetes. Usually diabetics that are starting to get other problems like neuropathy or trouble with their kidneys or eyes may experience gastroparesis.
Most treatments attempt to manage symptoms long term. Symptoms, usually occurring during and after a meal, include nausea and/or vomiting, fullness after a normal sized meal, early fullness (satiety) or weight loss.
Treatment often occurs through one or a combination of dietary and lifestyle measures, medications and procedures that may include surgery. Eating smaller, more frequent meals, choosing easily digestible foods or chewing food thoroughly can all minimize symptoms. Moderate to more severe symptoms may be combined with medicines to alleviate daily discomfort.
Prokinetic medications help the digestive tract improve motility. Another class of medications is aimed at neuromodulation, which decreases the sensitivity of the body to gastroparesis. Depending on what the underlying cause is, we will work with other medical professionals. At minimum, patients are referred to a registered dietician. If gastroparesis is related to Type 1 Diabetes, we will collaborate with endocrinologists.
Gastroparesis is managed on a case-by-case basis. This is why working with a gastrointestinal expert is crucial to a long-term reduction in symptoms. Initially, gastroenterologists, such as Dr. Sievers, collaborate frequently with patients to discuss their symptoms, conduct tests, obtain a diagnosis and find a path that will yield results. As patients become more stable and symptomatically better over time then consultations will spread apart every six months to a year.