Information from Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary on this gastrointestinal related disorder

When you eat a meal, the stomach typically takes 2 hours to empty itself, but with a condition known as Gastroparesis, food can remain in the stomach for a much longer period of time due to the nerves in the stomach being damaged and not working as they should. This is known as delayed gastric emptying.

The prevalence of Gastroparesis varies among different populations; however, in Canada it currently affects between 3 and 6 percent of the population.

Gastroparesis can be caused by a number of factors, though it commonly affects individuals with diabetes. It can also be caused by certain nervous system disorders including Parkinson’s disease and stroke, as well as certain medications such as antidepressants, opioids and calcium channel blockers, and can even be a complication of gastric surgery.

Symptoms of Gastroparesis include feeling full quickly (when eating), abdominal bloating, regurgitation of undigested food, heartburn, nausea and vomiting, lack of appetite and weight loss. These symptoms can occur more frequently in some patients than others, and they can range from mild to severe.

In order to diagnose Gastroparesis, your doctor may order a number of different tests including blood tests and/or an abdominal ultrasound. Another test that is often used to determine how slow or fast food leaves your stomach is a medical imaging test known as an upper GI series — commonly referred to as a barium swallow. An upper GI series is performed by having the patient lay on a table; the patient will then be asked to drink a flavourless, chalky, milkshake-like substance as x-ray images are taken to see how the substance moves through the digestive system while the table is tilted in various angles. The chalky substance in which the patient drinks can cause constipation, so it is important to drink plenty of water and eat foods high in fibre after the test is complete.

In order to treat Gastroparesis and reduce the symptoms associated with the condition, Vancouver physician Dr. Ali Ghahary recommends making certain changes to your eating habits. For example, rather than eating a few large meals you should eat smaller meals throughout the day. You should also eat meals that are low in carbohydrates and fat, and wait at least 2 hours after eating before lying down. If you are diabetic and suffer from Gastroparesis, have glucose tablets or hard candy on hand in the event that you need to treat low blood sugar levels. To help the stomach empty more quickly, a motility agent medication known as Metoclopramide may also be prescribed.

In severe cases of Gastroparesis, surgery may be required to place a feeding tube into the small intestine.

Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

Dr. Ali Ghahary is a Family Physician in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.