One of the many conditions I live with is called Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis means paralysis of the muscles of the stomach. Gastroparesis results in delayed emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine. It can be minor or quite severe; in my case, I have a moderate degree of paralysis, and the food sits for 2-3 days before being processed further in the digestive system.
I wasn’t aware there was a problem at first as the usual signs of Gastroparesis are nausea and vomiting. I didn’t suffer from either of those, but I did experience a lot of bloating. It felt like whatever I ate just sat there in my belly forever.
Some of the causes for Gastroparesis include:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Gastric surgery with an injury to the vagus nerve
- Medications such as narcotics and some antidepressants
- Parkinson’s disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rare conditions such as amyloidosis (deposits of protein fibres in tissues and organs) and scleroderma (a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and internal organs)
There are many symptoms of gastroparesis, including:
- Heartburn or GERD
- Vomiting undigested food
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Abdominal bloating
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Poor blood sugar control
Some of the complications of gastroparesis include:
- Food that stays in the stomach too long can ferment, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.
- Food in the stomach can harden into a solid collection, called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause obstructions in the stomach that keep food from passing into the small intestine.
- People who have both diabetes and gastroparesis may have more difficulty because blood sugar levels rise when the food finally leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine, making blood sugar control more of a challenge.
HOW DO THEY TEST FOR GASTROPARESIS
To diagnose gastroparesis, your doctor will review your symptoms and medical history. He or she will also give you a physical exam and may order certain blood tests, including blood sugar levels. Other tests used to diagnose and evaluate gastroparesis may include:
- Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid (barium), which coats the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and shows up on X-ray. This test is also known as an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or a barium swallow.
- Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan (gastric scintigraphy): You eat food that contains a very small amount of radioisotope (a radioactive substance), then lie under a scanning machine; if the scan shows that more than 10% of food is still in your stomach 4 hours after eating, you are diagnosed with gastroparesis.
- Gastric manometry: A thin tube that is passed through your mouth and into the stomach measures the stomach’s electrical and muscular activity to determine the rate of digestion.
- Electrogastrography: This test measures electrical activity in the stomach using electrodes placed on the skin.
- The smart pill: This is a small electronic device that is swallowed. It sends back information about how fast it is travelling as it moves through the digestive system.
- Ultrasound: This is an imaging test that uses sound waves to create pictures of body organs. Your doctor may use ultrasound to eliminate other diseases.
- Upper endoscopy: This procedure involves passing a thin tube (endoscope) down the esophagus to examine the lining of the stomach.
I underwent the Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan. In my case, they wanted me off ALL of my meds first to make sure they weren’t contributing to the problem, so for 2 days prior to my test I had to quit my medications cold turkey. That included my meds for Fibromyalgia, my anti-psychotics AND my opioid narcotic for pain. Do you have any idea what going through withdrawal is like? It was horrendous. I had the shakes, the runs, I couldn’t eat or sleep, and for those 2 days, I alternated between thinking I was dying and wanting to die.
DAY OF TEST
On the day of the test, I went to the hospital to where the Nuclear testing is done. I knew that I was going to be eating an egg sandwich with a radioactive tracer in it and that tracer would be monitored through a series of special x-rays, but I explained to the nurse that everything I ate was immediately running right through me like water. She was so sweet…she “reserved” me a private bathroom, brought me my sandwich and told me to eat as much as I could while I sat there. Talk about embarrassing!!! It’s embarrassing writing about it!!! But, I managed just over 3/4’s of the sandwich, which she said was enough. She brought me into the x-ray room where there was a gurney to lay on, and then gave me a warm blanket.
The first pictures were taken every 2 minutes, so I just sat. Then they took them every 5 minutes apart, then 10 minutes apart, then 15, then 30 and finally 2 pictures 1 hour apart each. In between, I slept on the gurney, and my nurse brought me as many warm blankets as I wanted. She also brought me a cold wet face cloth for my forehead. When it was all over, I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being so kind. Then I took my medications asap!!!!
The tests showed that I have a moderate degree of low motility so my food sits in my stomach for a long period of time before moving on to the intestines. This explains why I always look bloated and pregnant. There are medications that can be taken, but I’ve asked my Doctor if we can just hold off and wait on that for now. This is more of an inconvenience than anything right now, and I just don’t want any more drugs in my system than I absolutely need. If the problem becomes hugely bothersome, we’ll revisit it, but in the meantime, I’ll just try to watch what I eat, drink more water and try to exercise a bit more.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of Gastroparesis, please make an appointment to see your family doctor as soon as possible. There are treatments available and you won’t have to put up with the suffering. Thanks for reading and remember…
There Is Always Hope