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Gastroparesis treatment options to consider

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  • There is no definite cure for gastroparesis — the treatment plan for this disease varies from one person to another, and usually depends on the severity of symptoms and underlying cause
  • If gastroparesis becomes extremely severe even after taking medications and adopting dietary and lifestyle changes, then a physician may recommend either a jejunostomy or parenteral nutrition as a last resort

Researchers haven’t found a treatment method that can bring back the motility of the stomach and permanently cure gastroparesis. However, there are ways to control the symptoms of this disease to keep it from affecting your day-to-day activities. Some treatment options also aim to induce digestion by keeping the stomach valve open or by stimulating its muscles.1

Before we go into the details of gastroparesis treatment, let’s discuss how this disease is diagnosed. Keep in mind that proper diagnosis is essential, since it helps you determine the treatment plan that you need.

How is gastroparesis diagnosed?

If you’re suspected to have gastroparesis, then chances are you will be asked about your medical history and the symptoms that you’ve experienced. You may also be required to undergo a series of tests to allow the physician to make a precise diagnosis.

These tests may be used to detect any underlying issues that lead to the occurrence of delayed gastric emptying, as well as rule out the other possible causes behind your symptoms. Some of the diagnostic tests for gastroparesis include:2,3,4

  • Upper gastrointestinal (GI) endoscopy — This test helps determine if undigested food is accumulating in the stomach and causing blockage. Sometimes, the endoscope is also used to dissolve or break up solid masses of food.
  • Upper GI series — This procedure requires a patient to drink barium liquid after eight hours of fasting to make the signs of gastroparesis more visible in an X-ray machine. If the result shows food in the stomach even after fasting, then it’s highly likely that the patient has gastroparesis.
  • Ultrasound — This test is used to rule out gallbladder diseases and pancreatitis as the possible causes behind a patient’s digestive symptoms.
  • Gastric emptying scintigraphy — This test allows the physician to measure the rate of gastric emptying within the first four hours of eating a bland meal that contains radioactive material. If the meal is still in the stomach after four hours, then the patient is confirmed to have gastroparesis.
  • SmartPill — SmartPill is a small electronic device that records how fast food moves through the digestive tract. It comes in capsule form, so patients can easily swallow it.
  • Gastric emptying breath test — This test involves eating a meal that contains natural materials and carbon. It allows doctors to calculate the rate of gastric emptying by testing the amount of material and carbon in breath samples.
  • Gastric manometry — This test determines the rate of digestion and strength of muscle contraction by recording the stomach’s electrical and muscular activity.
  • Electrogastrography — This one-hour diagnostic procedure involves the use of electrodes to measure the electrical activity in the stomach.

Treatment for gastroparesis

There is no definite cure for gastroparesis — the treatment plan for this disease varies from one person to another, and usually depends on the severity of symptoms and underlying cause. Moreover, the available treatment options do not really cure delayed gastric emptying. Rather, they help sufferers manage their symptoms and live a normal life.

In most cases, medications are prescribed to control the symptoms of gastroparesis and induce stomach motility. Here are some of the common medications used for this disease:5,6

  • Metoclopramide is used to improve gastric emptying by stimulating stomach muscle contractions.
  • Erythromycin is an antibiotic that’s prescribed at low doses. Similar to metoclopramide, erythromycin improves gastric emptying by stimulating the contractions of the stomach muscles.
  • Antiemetic is taken to lessen nausea and vomiting.

However, it’s important to note that these medications have a variety of side effects. For instance, metoclopramide is known to cause drowsiness, nausea, depression and movement disorders,7 while erythromycin may cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramps.8

Make sure that you talk to your physician before using any of the medicines mentioned above, since taking them without proper prescription may do you more harm than good.

Aside from medications, your physician may also recommend injecting botulinum toxin (also commonly known as Botox) to the pylorus, which is the opening of the stomach into the duodenum. This procedure opens the pylorus for long periods of time, allowing the stomach to pass its contents onto the small intestine. However, the effectiveness of this treatment is still undetermined.9

Another treatment option that’s given for gastroparesis patients is gastric electrical stimulation. This method involves the use of a battery-operated device, which is implanted under the skin of the abdomen. This device delivers electrical impulses to the stomach muscles, reducing chronic nausea and vomiting. However, it may also lead to several complications, including infection and holes in the stomach wall.10

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Consider these safe and holistic treatment methods

It’s important to know you may have other options than taking conventional drugs and undergoing invasive treatment methods when it comes to managing delayed gastric emptying. For example, there are natural treatment methods for gastroparesis that you and your doctor may wish to try, either alone or in conjunction with traditional treatments, which include:11,12,13,14

  • Eating right — The first step to managing gastroparesis is adopting a healthy diet that’s specifically tailored for this disease. Talk to a dietitian to find out which foods are good for your body and which ones are not. In most cases, gastroparesis patients are given foods that are soft and easy to digest. Carbonated beverages and high-fiber foods should be avoided.
  • Quitting habits that harm your health — Smoking and drinking alcohol in excess are generally bad for your health. What makes these substances worse is that they may even aggravate digestive problems. Avoiding these habits not only helps you manage gastroparesis but also improves your overall well-being.
  • Considering acupressure and acupuncture — These therapies may help alleviate gastroparesis symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and bloating, and improve the digestion process by promoting the flow of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body.
  • Practicing deep breathing — This quick and easy technique may help stimulate the vagus nerve and improve blood flow to the digestive system. It may also help reduce the risk for gastroparesis symptoms, like bloating, abdominal pain and nausea.15
  • Exercising — Doing a gentle exercise after eating may help boost the body’s metabolism and digestive process. Go for a walk after a meal instead of just sitting or lying down to help the stomach process food more quickly.

What happens when treatments don’t work?

If gastroparesis becomes extremely severe even after taking medications and adopting dietary and lifestyle changes, then a physician may recommend either a jejunostomy or parenteral nutrition as a last resort.16

In jejunostomy, a surgeon places a feeding tube directly into a part of the small intestine called the jejunum. This procedure bypasses the stomach and delivers special liquid food with nutrients right into the small intestine.17

Parenteral nutrition, on the other hand, is a procedure wherein the surgeon places a catheter into a chest vein. The nutrients from an IV liquid food mixture are transported into the bloodstream through this catheter.

Keep in mind, though, that these procedures may lead to life-threatening complications.18,19 Make sure that you discuss with your doctor inherent risks before deciding to undergo any surgical therapy.

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Gastroparesis FAQ

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