What Is Gastroparesis?

What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a neuromuscular stomach disorder where food empties from your stomach more slowly than normal. In most people, undigested food moves from the stomach into their duodenum and small intestine within 2 to 4 hours after eating.

For patients who have gastroparesis, large amounts of food will stay in their stomach hours after eating or longer.

Patients with gastroparesis experience a variety of upper gastrointestinal symptoms including:

  • chronic nausea,
  • frequent vomiting,
  • early satiety,
  • abdominal bloating and
  • abdominal pain.

These symptoms prevent the patient from eating normally and may lead to dehydration, weight loss and eventual life-threatening electrolyte imbalances and malnutrition.

Moreover, delayed stomach emptying interferes with oral drug absorption and, in patients with diabetes mellitus, can prevent effective control of blood glucose levels.

Normal Stomach Emptying

Gastric emptying involves storage, the mixing of food with stomach secretions, the grinding of food into small particles and the movement of ground particles into the small intestine at a rate that optimizes digestion. Solids and liquids empty at different rates, and emptying is controlled by muscle contractions in different regions of the stomach.

Liquid emptying is rapid and is controlled by the upper portion of the stomach (fundus). Emptying of digestible solids is characterized by a lag during which stored food moves from the upper to the lower stomach (antrum), where it is ground into small particles by powerful circular contractions. The lag phase is followed by an emptying phase during which the ground particles move from the lower stomach into the duodenum and small intestine.

Stomach muscle contractions are controlled by electrical signals generated at the junction of the upper one-third and lower two-thirds of the stomach. The major factor controlling this electrical activity is feedback from neural receptors in the small intestine. Studies have shown that even when there is no apparent neurological damage, many cases of gastroparesis result from a deficiency in neural feedback.

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How Does Gastroparesis Affect Children?

Gastroparesis is a debilitating condition because of chronic nausea and vomiting and the severity of abdominal discomfort. If vomiting episodes can't be controlled through dietary modification or medication, then your child may develop dehydration, significant weight loss and poor nutrition.

In chronic cases, children are forced to withdraw from school and social activities because they lack the physical energy they need to perform normal daily activities. Children may become too weak to get out of bed and may require hospitalization to restore fluids and provide nutritional support.

Your child may need nutritional support from a surgically inserted feeding tube or indwelling intravenous catheter if your child can't get the calories she needs. If your child gets a feeding tube, she may have a risk of developing an infection.