Gastroparesis is a chronic (long-lasting) condition in which your stomach cannot empty itself of food in the normal way.
Typical symptoms include feeling sick or full when eating, bloating, and weight loss (see What are the symptoms? below).
The cause is not a blockage, but thought to be a problem with the nerves or muscles controlling the emptying of the stomach. If the nerves are damaged, the muscles of your stomach and intestines do not work properly and the movement of food is slowed.
In many cases, the cause is unknown – this is known as idiopathic gastroparesis.
When the cause of gastroparesis is known, it is usually poorly controlled diabetes. The nerves to the stomach can be damaged by constantly high levels of blood glucose. Therefore if you have diabetes, it's important to keep your blood glucose levels under control.
Gastroparesis can also be a complication of some types of surgery, such as a gastrectomy (removal of part of the stomach).
Other possible causes are:
The main symptoms of gastroparesis are:
These symptoms can be mild or severe, and tend to come and go.
If you think you may have gastroparesis you must see your doctor, as it can lead to dangerous complications, including:
To diagnose gastroparesis, your doctor will listen to your symptoms and medical history, and may order some blood tests.
You may be referred to hospital for the following diagnostic tests:
Gastroparesis cannot usually be cured, but dietary changes and medical treatments can help you control the condition. These measures are summarised below.
You may find these tips helpful:
Also, try avoiding:
The follow medication may help to improve your symptoms:
More severe cases of gastroparesis can also be treated by injecting botulinum toxin (Botox) into the valve between your stomach and small intestine, to relax it and keep it open for a longer period of time so food can pass through.
The injection is given via an endoscope (thin flexible tube), which is passed down your throat and into your stomach.
This is a fairly new treatment that has had mixed results so far.
This fairly new treatment may be tried if dietary changes and medication don't improve your symptoms.
Under a general anaesthetic, a battery-operated device is surgically implanted into your body. This works a bit like a pacemaker.
The device is made up of a neurostimulator and two leads. The stimulating electrode of each lead is fixed to the muscle of your lower stomach and the connector end of each lead is attached to the neurostimulator, which is implanted under the skin of your tummy.
When the neurostimulator is turned on using a handheld external control, electrical impulses are delivered to the stomach. The rate and amplitude of stimulation can be adjusted.
There is a small chance of this procedure leading to infection, the device dislodging and moving, or a hole forming in your stomach wall, which would mean removing the device. Speak to your surgeon about these possible risks.
If you have extremely severe gastroparesis that is not improved with dietary changes and medication, you may benefit from a feeding tube.
Many different types of feeding tube are available – some only temporary, and others permanent.
A temporary feeding tube called a nasojejunal tube may be offered to you first, which is inserted through your nose to pass nutrients directly into your small intestine.
A feeding tube can also be inserted into your bowel surgically, via an incision made in your tummy. This is known as a jejunostomy. Liquid food containing nutrients can be poured into the tube, which goes straight to your bowel to be absorbed, bypassing your stomach.
Speak to your doctor about the risks and benefits of each type of feeding tube.
An alternative feeding method for severe gastroparesis is intravenous (parenteral) nutrition, where liquid nutrients are passed straight into your bloodstream via a catheter (a tiny flexible tube) that is fed into a large vein.
You may benefit from having a surgical procedure to create an opening between your stomach and small intestine, to allow food to move through more easily. This is known as a gastroenterostomy.
Your doctor will explain this procedure to you in detail, and explain the possible risks.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.