Gastroparesis is a condition characterized by stomach paralysis. When this disorder is present, stomach motility will either be absent or abnormal. This means the contractions that push food through the stomach and into the small intestine are not as effective as they need to be. This can cause issues such as malnutrition due to the digestive system not being able to properly absorb nutrients from the food the stomach is not sufficiently pulverizing. It is common for patients to experience discomfort and the severity varies greatly. It is essential to know what symptoms might occur and what patients may be able to do to help calm them.
Nausea And Vomiting
Since food is not properly digested, it tends to sit in the stomach and can lead to nausea. It is not uncommon for vomiting to occur several hours after someone eats due to regurgitation causing the undigested food to come back up. Nausea and vomiting may be alleviated with certain treatments aimed at it. For example, minimizing fatty foods and those with strong flavors might be beneficial. Patients may also benefit from making sure food is thoroughly chewed, so the stomach does not have to work as hard to digest it. Lastly, antiemetic medications may be considered. These medicines help calm nausea and reduce the severity and incidence to promote comfort, and to decrease the risk of the patient needing to vomit.
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Abdominal Bloating And Pain
Poor digestion can cause abdominal bloating and pain, which may result in some patients avoiding eating to reduce the risk of experiencing these discomforts. To alleviate bloating and pain, patients should avoid raw vegetables and fruits. Instead, juice or cook them thoroughly. This can reduce fiber content, making it easier for the stomach to process them. Limiting dairy, fatty foods, and carbonated drinks are also beneficial. There are some medications doctors might suggest to reduce these symptoms, such as lactase supplements, alpha-galactosidase, and simethicone. Some patients may respond to activated charcoal, but this is generally a last-ditch effort since it has the potential to stain the inner mouth and cause absorption issues for other medications.
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Poor Appetite And Weight Loss
Individuals who experience severe symptoms of gastroparesis may avoid eating to try and reduce discomfort. A poor appetite and weight loss often go together and may eventually progress to malnutrition. Those experiencing these symptoms should talk to their doctor promptly to avoid more serious complications. Drinking more water and taking a multivitamin may help prevent dehydration and severe nutrient deficiencies. However, patients who are unable to improve their appetite and get sufficient calories may require a feeding tube, which allows them to get proper nutrition without the need for eating solid food. Before this is tried, doctors may prescribe a liquid diet to see if this is helpful before putting patients through the insertion process for a tube.
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Indigestion common with gastroparesis may cause patients to experience heartburn, due to acids from the stomach moving back up and into the esophagus. It can cause a burning sensation, usually in the chest or upper abdominal area. Reducing dairy products, waiting at least two hours to lie down after eating, and drinking more water might help to calm this symptom. Not smoking and avoiding carbonated drinks is also often recommended. If these do not help alleviate heartburn, there are medications doctors may prescribe, such as antacids, proton pump inhibitors, and H-2-receptor antagonists. Some of these medicines, such as antacids, may be taken as needed when heartburn occurs. However, the other two types of medications are usually taken on a regular basis to prevent heartburn.
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Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid goes up into the esophagus and causes the lining of this tube to become irritated. For this condition to be diagnosed, patients have to experience it at least once a week. Acid reflux may cause chest pain, chronic nighttime cough, problems with swallowing, heartburn, and food regurgitation. Patients should avoid any foods that trigger their symptoms. It is also important to not lie down following eating food and chewing as thoroughly as possible. Antacids might be recommended to quickly calm acid reflux, but other medications may be taken regularly to try and prevent symptoms from happening, such as H-2-receptor blockers, proton pump inhibitors, or baclofen. The last of these may reduce the acids from being able to back up into the esophagus.
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Unpredictable Blood Sugar
Due to the numerous changes in the frequency and quantity of food passing into an individual's small bowel can result in seemingly unusual and unpredictable changes in blood sugar. Although this symptom and gastroparesis as a whole do not cause diabetes, this particular symptom can make diabetes worse. In addition, unpredictable changes in blood sugar can make other gastroparesis symptoms worse. This is why it is crucial for gastroparesis patients, particularly those who also have diabetes, to monitor not only what they are eating, but also how much they are eating and when they are eating it. Doing so can help minimize the impact of unpredictable changes in blood sugar.
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Bacterial Overgrowth And Bezoars
When the food a gastroparesis eats is delayed entering the small intestine, it can result in bacterial overgrowth if the food begins to ferment. In addition, the delayed food can begin to harden and form what are called bezoars. Bezoars are a particularly unfortunate symptom of gastroparesis because they can trigger other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, as well as stomach obstructions. Bezoars can end up being quite dangerous if they prevent food from entering the small intestine, so it is absolutely crucial to treat and get rid of them as soon as they are detected. A visit to the doctor will, of course, be necessary to diagnose them and to come up with a safe and effective treatment plan.
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As has already been discussed, many patients dealing with gastroparesis experience a loss of appetite and often weight loss as a result of it. However, when a case of gastroparesis worsens and persists, the loss of appetite, weight loss, and other connected symptoms can progress to the point of malnutrition, which is defined as a lack of proper nutrition. This can occur in a few ways, such as not having enough food to eat, not eating enough of the proper food, or even being unable to adequately process and use the food eaten. In the case of gastroparesis, malnutrition typically stems from not processing the food being eaten properly because of the condition itself or due to one of its symptoms, such as persistent vomiting.
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As mentioned, vomiting is one of the symptoms of gastroparesis to watch out for. This is especially true when vomiting increases in frequency and is difficult to stop, which can result in dehydration, as the patient expels liquid from their body and because the frequency of vomiting may make it difficult to drink more water. The only remedy to dehydration, regardless of the cause, is to replace the fluids lost with more. When it comes to gastroparesis and dealing with potential dehydration, try rehydration beverages, which include electrolytes, as these can improve dehydration faster than just water. Of course, a trip to the hospital may be required in serious cases, and an IV may be inserted to rehydrate the patient.
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Gastroparaesis affects the normal movement of the stomach muscles. One of the first and most obvious signs of this is frequent belching. Belching is the normal way for the body to remove excess gas from the digestive tract during digestion. The average individual expels gas through their digestive tract multiple times a day, and this is a sign of healthy digestion. However, going beyond the average amount of belching can be a sign of gastroparesis. Individuals with this condition have an abnormally slow rate of digestion. Solid food is converted and emptied from the body very slowly, meaning the food stays within the digestive tract for longer than normal. This causes an excessive build-up of gas that needs to be more frequently expelled through belching.
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Feeling Full Quickly
Feeling full quickly is another common symptom of gastroparesis. Because food is digested at a slower rate, more remains in the stomach and digestive tract for a longer period. This prevents an individual from getting hungry as often and keeps them feeling full quicker. The cause of this disease is typically unknown, but it often presents as a complication of diabetes, which affects the blood sugar and, subsequently, can affect appetite levels. Likewise, the prolongation of the digestion process causes an excessive amount of stomach acid and digestive gas to be produced and held within the body. This 'gas bubble' in the stomach can also contribute to the person feeling full quicker than usual.
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A distended abdomen occurs when the abdomen expands due to the accumulation of elements such as fluid and gas. Patients with this symptom often complain of feeling bloated and dealing with swelling. Ultimately, abdominal distention causes a fair amount of pain in individuals with gastroparesis. Typically, the distension worsens after eating and remains quite painful for some time afterward. The pain triggered by eating can be experienced as sharp and acute or dull and aching. Some patients report strong intestinal cramping or experiencing muscle spasms in the upper abdomen as well, as the system works in overdrive in an attempt to accommodate the newly-ingested food. Regardless of how the pain is felt, a distended abdomen is never comfortable, and experiencing this regularly warrants a discussion with a doctor.