Gastroparesis: Food for thought

Not many people know about gastroparesis, a condition where your stomach fails to empty food in a normal fashion. 


Sunday dinner is laid out. You feast your eyes on some of your favorite dishes—turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, and cranberry sauce.

But after only a few bites, a strange feeling overcomes you. Without warning, the post-lunch bloating sensation rears its ugly head, leaving you feeling as stuffed as the turkey. You naturally brush it off as indigestion or lack of appetite.

Unfortunately, it could be a much more serious problem known as gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis means you have weakened stomach muscles. In most cases, it is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which helps stomach muscles empty food into the small intestine. In healthy adults, this process typically takes four hours. For patients with gastroparesis, it could take days.

The condition is incurable, leaving sufferers with debilitating bouts of nausea, stomach pain, and bloating. Low energy and malnutrition are also associated with the disease, which affects more than 1.5 million Americans, according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders.

It affects women more than men. In fact, about 80 percent of idiopathic gastroparesis cases involve women, according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders.

Besides damage to the vagus nerve, other causes of gastroparesis include diabetes, multiple sclerosis, bulimia, and abdominal or intestinal surgery.


Here’s an overview of the disease:


Risk factors: 

  • Diabetes
  • Abdominal or intestinal surgery
  • Infections such as a virus
  • Medications that slow the speed of stomach emptying, such as pain medications
  • Scleroderma, a connective tissue disease
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Nervous system diseases such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease


Complications from gastroparesis:

  • Malnutrition: Your body does not absorb enough nutrients due to vomiting.
  • Dehydration: Again, due to ongoing vomiting.
  • Blood-sugar level changes: The frequent changes of food passing into the small intestine cause erratic changes in blood-sugar levels.
  • Decreased quality of life: Flare-up of symptoms makes keeping up with life’s daily responsibilities difficult.
Source: Mayo Clinic



Florida Hospital Waterman offers several treatment options to help patients live a better quality of life. Those include:

  • Instead of eating two or three large meals each day, eat six small meals per day.
  • Replace some solid meals with liquids such as soup.
  • Eat meals that contain little fiber or fat.
  • Medications may help control nausea and vomiting.
  • Other medications help the stomach empty faster.
  • A surgical procedure called jejunostomy entails inserting a feeding tube into the small intestine. Thus, nutrients are put directly into the small intestine, bypassing the stomach. This procedure is used only when gastroparesis symptoms are severe.
  • Parenteral nutrition is an alternative to the jejunostomy tube. A physician places a catheter into a chest vein, delivering nutrients directly into the bloodstream and bypassing the digestive system.



  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Feeling full after a few bites of food
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Acid reflux
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Changes in blood-sugar levels
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
Source: Mayo Clinic