What is gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a disorder characterized by delayed emptying of the stomach contents. In this condition, the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine slows down or stops completely. The smooth functioning of the stomach muscles is controlled by the vagus nerve. Hence, it is the vagus nerve controls the digestion of food and its movement along the gastrointestinal tract.
Gastroparesis can occur due to injury to the vagus nerve during a surgical process, vagus nerve damage due to diabetes, diseases of the nervous system like Parkinson’s or Multiple sclerosis, and due to some medications like narcotics or antidepressants.
Why are diabetics at an increased risk of gastroparesis?
Uncontrolled diabetes for a long period of time affects each organ in the body. Over a period, around 70% of diabetics start showing symptoms of diabetic neuropathy, which affects both the autonomic and peripheral nervous systems; this includes the vagus nerve, which triggers gastroparesis. Since the gastric emptying is unpredictable, controlling blood sugar levels of these patients also becomes difficult. Hence, it is very important for diabetics to keep a tab of their blood sugar levels.
To have good control over blood glucose levels in diabetics with gastroparesis, patients may have to
- Increase the frequency of insulin or change the type of insulin taken
- Take insulin post meals, rather than taking it before
- Check blood glucose levels frequently after meals and administer insulin accordingly
- Sometimes it may be suggested that the patient’s diet includes many liquids or puréed meals a day until the symptoms of gastroparesis improve and blood glucose levels are stable.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea, vomiting, heartburn, bloating of the abdomen, weight loss, poor appetite, and feeling full easily. Symptoms can be aggravated by consuming oily foods, large quantities of foods with fiber or drinking aerated drinks. Symptoms may vary in severity and frequency in each patient and can also vary in intensity over time in the same person.