Five million people in the U.S. have this long-lasting stomach disease

Five million people in the U.S. have this long-lasting stomach disease

If you’re experiencing nausea, acid reflux, pain in the upper abdomen, weight loss and bloating, you may have gastroparesis.

This disease affects the stomach muscles and prevents proper stomach emptying. The underlying cause isn’t always clear and it can happen to anyone, experts say. Gastroparesis is also known as ‘delayed gastric emptying,’ and doctors say it’s important to get in contact with primary care if symptoms continue. The NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says up to five million people have this condition in the U.S.

“If it’s just an intermittent discomfort, it could be what you’ve eaten or indigestion,” says Dr. Daniel McKenna, general surgeon at Aurora BayCare Medical Center in Green Bay, Wis. “But when symptoms are persisting, it’s best to contact your primary care provider and they can refer you to a gastroenterologist.”

Dr. McKenna says it’s not uncommon for diabetes to cause gastroparesis. The American Gastroenterological Association says more than one out of three people with Type 1 or 2 diabetes end up with gastroparesis.

Post-surgical complications, diseases affecting the nervous system, rheumatological disorders and medications blocking stomach nerve signals have also played a part in patients developing gastroparesis. Dr. McKenna says he’s even seen symptoms of gastroparesis after a COVID diagnosis.

“Sometimes people get a viral infection that causes either an autoimmune response or inflammatory response that interrupts the nerve conduction to the stomach and stops emptying,” he says. “We’ve had a handful of people who have COVID remotely, whether that was sometime in the last six months to a year who have come in now with nausea, vomiting and fairly substantial delays in their gastric emptying.”

Dr. McKenna says for the most part gastroparesis is a lifelong condition, but treatment options are available that help manage symptoms. He says changing diet, medicine and surgery are some effective ways to treat gastroparesis, but what’s best for each patient differs based on their health history.

Enterra Therapy, a device that stimulates the stomach muscles, is often performed by Dr. McKenna to treat gastroparesis.

“It’s essentially like a deep brain stimulator being placed in the stomach wall to help shut off that central vomiting center,” he says. “So interestingly, people will often not have the nausea and vomiting that they had.”

Dr. McKenna says people who consistently suffer from nausea, vomiting, uncontrolled acid reflux, bloating and upper abdominal comfort should try and get evaluated by a gastroenterologist.

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About the Author

Cearron Bagenda
Cearron Bagenda

Cassie Richardson, health enews contributor, is regional coordinator on the Public Affairs team for Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care. She previously worked as a TV news reporter and fill-in anchor covering medical, political, feature and breaking news stories at CBS 58 in Milwaukee, WBAY-TV ABC in Green Bay and NBC Nebraska- Scottsbluff. Cearron enjoys spending time outside with her three dogs, biking, traveling and interior decorating.