Gastroparesis is a disorder in which food stays in your stomach for longer than normal, and takes too long to empty.

Gastroparesis and diabetes

Diabetes, which can harm your nerves, is a leading cause of gastroparesis, which affects around 20 per cent of people with type 1 diabetes. People with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be affected.

Type 1 diabetics are at greater risk of developing gastroparesis as nerves to the stomach can be damaged by high blood glucose levels.

Absorption of blood glucose is affected when the stomach does not work correctly, and keeping blood sugar control can become difficult.

If blood sugar levels fluctuate regularly, the vagus nerve – which moves food through the digestive tract – can be damaged. When the vagus nerve stops functioning properly, food can be caused to turn into solid masses.

Gastroparesis symptoms

Symptoms of gastroparesis can range from mild to severe, with certain symptoms more likely to appear in some than others. If you display any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor immediately. These include:

  • Vomiting (which can happen daily)
  • Nausea
  • Early fullness when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Trouble controlling blood sugar levels

How is gastroparesis diagnosed?

A physical exam will be conducted by your doctor, with tests used to diagnose gastroparesis including the consumption of barium by patients, or eating food with a radioactive substance that will appear on a scan.

An X-ray is taken following consumption of barium which will allow the doctor to assess if your stomach is emptying as it should.

Otherwise, an ultrasound, which creates an image of your organs using sound waves, and an upper endoscopy that allows your stomach lining to be seen can identify gastroparesis.

If you are affected by gastroparesis, a tube-scope to measure electrical and muscular stomach activity may be conducted. Other further tests include a gastric emptying scintigraphy test and consumption of a SmartPill, which tracks how fast food moves through your digestive tract.

How is gastroparesis treated?

There is no cure for gastroparesis, but the disorder, and its symptoms can be managed with blood glucose control.

Your doctor may instantly adjust insulin levels to restore blood sugar control, before recommending medication, diet changes and possibly even surgery.

Among the type of gastroparesis drugs that may be prescribed include:

  • Metoclopramide and erythromycin – which stimulate stomach muscles to help with digestion
  • Prochlorperazine, antiemetics and diphenhydramine – often given to control nausea and vomiting

Parenteral nutrition may be recommended by some doctors, which delivers nutrition directly into the blood stream.

Diet changes such as eating six small meals instead of three big meals per day may be suggested to control gastroparesis. Avoiding fatty and high-fibre foods which can affect digestion may be recommended, while eating liquid meals will be easier to digest.