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What is gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a gastric motility disorder in which the function of the stomach is impaired. The stomach is an important organ in our digestive system, which uses a series of muscular contractions to store meals after they have been eaten, grind up any solid food and pump this liquid into our small intestine at the right rate, so that the next steps in the digestive process can take place. In the case of gastroparesis, the muscular contractions of the stomach are defective, and as a result the contents of the stomach are emptied too slowly leading to symptoms.

While gastroparesis is a relatively uncommon disorder, it can be very debilitating for those who suffer from it. Gastroparesis can have a significant impact on quality of life including the physical, emotional, and financial aspects of life. Sufferers may find that the nausea, discomfort, and pain associated with gastroparesis interfere with their ability to work, socialise, and maintain normal eating patterns. In severe cases, the inability to properly digest food can result in hospitalisation for fluid and nutrition supplementation, or sometimes the need for extra nutritional supplementation by a tube.

Gastroparesis is considered to be a motility disorder because there is no evidence of physical obstruction of the stomach, meaning that the primary issue is in the movement of the stomach. Impaired movement of the musculature of the stomach can be related to many underlying health problems, including diabetes, infection, neurological disorders, side-effects of medication, and following gastric surgery. However, in a large percentage of cases, gastroparesis is idiopathic – there is no known cause. In addition to the abnormalities of movement, there are also abnormalities of sensory function, so that the stomach becomes oversensitive and the sensations arising from the stomach are perceived as different or abnormally intense.

There are a variety of treatment options available to help gastroparesis sufferers manage their symptoms, though there is currently no cure. Health professionals are likely to recommend dietary changes, medications to minimise symptoms, psychological support, or hospital-based interventions depending on the severity of the symptoms and their response to treatment.

How many people are affected?

There are very few statistics on the prevalence of gastroparesis. It has been estimated that up to 4% of the population may experience gastroparesis-like symptoms, but it is uncertain how many of these people have the actual condition, as the sympotms and abnormalities of gastroparesis can be similar to other chronic functional gastrointestinal diseases such as functional dyspepsia or chronic idiopathic nausea. The lack of clarity around the incidence of gastroparesis is partially due to variation in the recognition of the condition by health professionals, as well as variation in the interpretation of test results.

As gastroparesis may be caused by diabetes, estimates about how many people are affected by gastroparesis are sometimes made based on diabetes statistics. These statistics suggest that more than 1.5 million Americans suffer from severe gastroparesis, and one estimate suggests that approximately 120,000 Australians are affected by the disorder. Women are more commonly affected than men, with approximately 80% of gastroparesis sufferers being female. The reason for this difference is not fully understood.

When does gastroparesis start?

Gastroparesis can begin at any age, although the average age of onset is 34 years.

Types of gastroparesis

In some cases, gastroparesis may be categorised as one of the following:

Idiopathic gastroparesis  – there is no detectable abnormality responsible for the symptoms experienced, although sometimes the symptoms began following an infectious episode (gastroenteriltis with vomiting, nausea and diarrhea) – postinfectious gastroparesis

Diabetic gastroparesis  – diabetes mellitus is the most common disease associated with gastroparesis, with 20-50% of longstanding diabetics experiencing gastroparesis, mostly in association with other complications of diabetes.

Post surgical gastroparesis – symptoms began following surgery to the upper gastrointestinal tract – the esophagus (gullet) or stomach.




MORE LINKS

If you are interested in other gastrointestinal-focused information and intervention websites developed and hosted at
Swinburne University of Technology,
please go to:

IBSclinic.org.au for individuals with Irritable Bowel Syndrome

IBDclinic.org.au for individuals with Inflammatory Bowel Disease

DISCLAIMER

This website and its content is not intended or recommended as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice of your own physician or other qualified health care professional regarding any medical questions or conditions.

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