Gastroparesis is a medical condition that causes a delay in the emptying of the stomach. It occurs because the normal movement of the stomach muscles does not work correctly or slows down.

Gastroparesis can be mild and produce few symptoms, or it can be severe and cause disability and hospitalizations. Complications of gastroparesis include malnutrition, dehydration, and irregular blood sugar levels.

Symptoms of gastroparesis include:

Medical professionals may have difficulty distinguishing and diagnosing gastroparesis, in part because gastroparesis symptoms overlap with many other digestive conditions.

The causes of gastroparesis are often linked to underlying medical conditions, including diabetes or lupus, or certain medical procedures, such as bariatric surgery. However, according to a review, a person is most likely to experience gastroparesis spontaneously and with no clear cause.

Several treatments are available, although a doctor will most often recommend dietary changes as the first option for those with gastroparesis.

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Dietary changes are the primary treatment for gastroparesis. Doctors may recommend a person cut down on high-fat and high-fiber foods while prioritizing nutrient-dense and easily digestible items.

Other changes which can help to ease symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  • eating smaller meals
  • chewing food properly
  • avoiding lying down during and after meals
  • consuming liquid meal replacements
  • taking a daily supplement

Eating smaller meals

Increasing the number of daily meals and decreasing the size of each one can help alleviate bloating and possibly allow the stomach to empty more quickly.

Some medical professionals recommended patients eat three small meals and two snacks throughout the day. However, other reviews suggest that consuming 4-6 meals per day is optimal.

Chewing food properly

If food is not chewed enough in the mouth, it requires more effort to be broken down in the stomach. If food does not adequately break down in the stomach, it will not empty easily into the small intestine.

Thorough chewing may aid in the pace of digestion. If necessary, a person should address any dental problems they have that may be preventing the thorough chewing of their food.

Avoiding lying down during and after meals

Gravity aids digestion. When a person lies down while eating or within 3 hours of a meal, this can offset the effect of gravity and delay stomach emptying. Additionally, lying down during or following meals can contribute to acid reflux.

Going for a walk after eating, or engaging in another gentle physical activity, may help stimulate the stomach muscles.

Consuming liquid meal replacements

Consuming high-calorie liquid meal replacements may help a person reach daily calorie and nutrient goals without added solid mass.

Additionally, maintaining adequate fluid intake may assist a person in avoiding further complications, such as dehydration.

Taking a daily supplement

Malnutrition is a possible complication of gastroparesis. Some people with the condition may wish to take daily multivitamin and multimineral supplements to avoid this. However, this is not always necessary for recovery, according to a review.

It may be helpful for a person with gastroparesis to work with a dietitian to discover what foods meet their nutritional needs while being easy to digest. However, in general, the following foods are best for those with gastroparesis:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are essential for overall nutrient intake. A person with gastroparesis may find blended and strained fruits and vegetables easier to consume. Thorough cooking may also help.
  • Carbohydrates: White carbohydrates normally have lower fiber contents than whole-grain versions. A person experiencing delayed stomach emptying may find these easier to digest.
  • Meats, eggs, and dairy: A person with gastroparesis should prioritize products with a low fat content. This can include poultry, ground meats, and low-fat cheeses.

Certain foods are more difficult to digest and can make the symptoms of gastroparesis worse.

A 2019 review suggested that people with gastroparesis avoid large, high-calorie fatty meals and foods high in dietary fiber. However, the authors noted that this was based purely on physical observations, and full studies into the individual effects of food groups were necessary to validate these suggestions.

Alcohol consumption can also delay the rate of gastric emptying, according to researchers.

While dietary interventions are considered the first-line treatment for gastroparesis, they do not work for everyone. There are a number of other treatment options a person may pursue if dietary changes do not prove effective.

Medications

A doctor may prescribe metoclopramide and erythromycin to assist patients with stomach emptying. These are known as prokinetic medications and aid the body in passing solids through the digestive system. A 2016 review stated that both can improve symptoms of gastroparesis.

Patients may also take medication to treat other symptoms of gastroparesis, such as nausea and vomiting. For example, a doctor may prescribe prochlorperazine, diphenhydramine, or ondansetron to alleviate these symptoms.

Medications to avoid

Several medications are known to delay stomach emptying. People who are experiencing gastroparesis should tell their doctor about all the medications they are taking prior to diagnosis.

Regular use of over-the-counter antacids may delay stomach emptying. A person may be taking these medications to treat symptoms of heartburn and indigestion.

Some prescription drugs, such as anticholinergic agents, may also cause symptoms of gastroparesis. Anticholinergic agents block certain nerve impulses and are often used to treat conditions such as Parkinson’s disease.

Medical procedures

In severe cases, people who cannot take any food or liquids due to gastroparesis may require a feeding tube. Alternatively, a doctor may suggest a gastric venting tube to relieve pressure in the stomach.

Medical professionals also may recommend a procedure called gastric electrical stimulation (GES). However, a series of reviews have urged caution in recommending the treatment due to a lack of controlled studies. The authors concluded that further research was required to assess the use of GES.

Acupuncture

Limited evidence suggests acupuncture may improve gastrointestinal symptoms in people with gastroparesis, particularly diabetic gastroparesis.

The outlook for people with gastroparesis varies and depends on the cause and severity of the condition.

Dietary changes and gentle exercise after meals can increase the chances of successfully managing symptoms.

If these changes alone are not effective, medications, medical interventions, and alternative therapies may help relieve symptoms and avoid complications.