What Causes Gastroparesis?

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  • Diabetes mellitus may lead to gastroparesis by damaging the vagus nerve. Once the vagus nerve malfunctions, the digestive process slows down and causes food to stay in the stomach longer than it should. This condition is referred to as diabetic gastroparesis
  • While gastroparesis is linked to a variety of possible triggers, the exact culprit behind it is still undetermined

While gastroparesis is linked to a variety of possible triggers, studies on the disease are limited, making the exact culprit behind it harder to pinpoint. In fact, according to a study published in the Digestive Diseases and Sciences journal, around 36 percent of gastroparesis patients fall under the idiopathic category, which means that the reason for the occurrence of their condition is unknown.1

Researchers have shown that this condition is more likely to occur as a complication of diabetes mellitus and gastric surgery. However, there are also other possible factors, which include viral infections, rare diseases and physical trauma, among others. The risk factors of gastroparesis are discussed in detail below.2

Diabetes Mellitus Is Considered the Biggest Risk Factor

A study that analyzed 146 gastroparesis patients in the span of six years shows that around 29 percent are also diagnosed with a form of diabetes mellitus, further confirming its role in the development of delayed gastric emptying.3

Diabetes mellitus may lead to gastroparesis by damaging the vagus nerve. To give you some background, the primary function of the vagus nerve is to control the motility of the stomach. There are a lot of factors that may damage it, with high glucose levels being the most common culprit. Once the vagus nerve malfunctions, the digestive process slows down and causes food to stay in the stomach longer than it should. This condition is referred to as diabetic gastroparesis.4,5

Patients with longstanding and uncontrolled diabetes are more likely to develop this chronic gastrointestinal problem. Type 1 diabetics are also more susceptible to this disease, but those with Type 2 diabetes still have a high chance of developing it.6

Moreover, diabetic gastroparesis usually cause unpredictable hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, which can be controlled though dietary and medicinal modifications. However, it may also lead to death in severe cases due to recurrent nausea and vomiting.7

Surgical Operations May Cause Gastroparesis, Too

Surgery in the gastrointestinal tract, particularly in the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, may injure the vagus nerve and damage the entire digestive system. According to the study mentioned above, approximately 13 percent of 146 gastroparesis patients in the study underwent gastric surgery, making it one of the most common triggers of delayed gastric emptying.8

The symptoms of postoperative gastroparesis are similar to other etiologies of this chronic condition, which include nausea, vomiting and early satiety.9 However, the occurrence of its symptoms is unpredictable. Some sufferers develop symptoms right after the surgery, while others only encounter the warning signs after a few months or years.10

What Are the Other Possible Triggers of This Disease?

If diabetes and gastric surgery are ruled out as the possible causes of gastroparesis, then a physician may also look into some of the other triggers of this disease, which include:11

Viral infections

Some patients who are diagnosed with idiopathic gastroparesis actually experienced a form of viral infection before the onset of this disease. Some of the viruses linked to gastroparesis include Norwalk virus (stomach flu), Epstein-Barr virus (mononucleosis), herpes simplex virus and cytomegalovirus.

Medications

Some medications may delay gastric emptying. This includes antidepressants, narcotics, lithium, nicotine, progesterone and calcium channel blockers.12

Endocrine disorders

Endocrine disorders, such as hypopituitarism, Addison's disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and hyperparathyroidism, are also linked to gastroparesis.13

Eating disorders

Eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia may also lead to delayed gastric emptying.

Connective tissue disorders

Connective tissue disorders like scleroderma may cause gastric muscles to degenerate over time, ultimately resulting in gastroparesis.14

Psychological condition

Psychological condition has a significant effect on the gastrointestinal system, which is why psychological stress may trigger or exacerbate the symptoms of gastroparesis.15

Neurological conditions

Neurological disorders, such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, amyloidosis and paraneoplastic disease, may affect the neural control of the stomach and cause gastroparesis.16


Researchers are also looking into the effects of hormones on gastroparesis. Studies suggest that women have a slower gastric emptying rate than men, especially during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle — this explains why women are more susceptible to this disease than men.

MORE ABOUT GASTROPARESIS

Gastroparesis: Introduction

What Is Gastroparesis?

Diabetic Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis Symptoms

Gastroparesis Causes

Gastroparesis Treatment

Gastroparesis Prevention

Gastroparesis Diet

Gastroparesis FAQ

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