Throughout August, the International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD) will raise awareness about the symptom, burdens and quality of life for those living with gastroparesis.
Alongside IFFGD, I will also use my platform here to raise awareness about my life living with Gastroparesis.
Before we start the month, I thought this post, simply ‘What is Gastroparesis?’, is a good starting point!
Do you have any more questions or requests for the month? Please leave them in the comments below.
What is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis (also called delayed gastric emptying), is a chronic digestive condition.
To see how this works in our bodies below is a wonderful example from Diet vs Disease.
In this pictorial example, you can see how, with Gastroparesis, the vagus nerve and/or muscle damage can impair the stomach’s ability to contract and release properly.
As a result, this means food and fluid in the stomach remains there for longer, hence Gastroparesis being described as “delayed emptying”.
Some refer to Gastroparesis as having a paralysed stomach (this is because Gastro equals stomach and paresis equals paralysis).
Gastroparesis is characterised by symptoms which can vary from life-limiting to life-threatening and often persist or reoccur over time.
What are the symptoms of Gastroparesis?
Symptoms primarily usually occur during and after eating a meal.
It’s hard to say when my symptoms started but for many years before my diagnosis, I had overwhelming nausea, lack of appetite and pain after eating a main meal.
Here are some typical symptoms of Gastroparesis:
💕 Nausea and/or vomiting
💕 Retching (dry heaves)
💕 Stomach fullness after a normal-sized meal
💕 Early fullness (satiety) unable to finish a meal
I also experienced bloating, heartburn, and discomfort and pain after eating. Ultimately, this all resulted in a decreased appetite and weight loss.
What causes Gastroparesis?
For the majority of those that live with Gastroparesis, the cause is unknown and is termed “idiopathic” (that word meaning that basically no cause is known).
However, what is known about Gastroparesis, is that some of the symptoms may begin following a virus infection.
Other possible causes include:
💕 Surgeries like bariatric, stomach or oesophagal surgery
💕 Medications including narcotics and antacids
💕 Other illnesses such as Lupus, Multiple Sclerosis, Scleroderma (my route to Gastroparesis), Thyroid Disease or Post-Viral infection and Cellular changes.
What tests are done to diagnose Gastroparesis?
The diagnosis of Gastroparesis is confirmed with various tests. I have had all of the below although it’s been a while since I have had some of them. I’ll describe each test to the best of my ability but you are of course welcome to share your experiences below:
The first test is performed to make sure there is not an ulcer or an obstruction. I went into the hospital for my upper endoscopy and it was performed by my specialist. An upper endoscopy will basically look for problems in your upper digestive tract that may be causing your symptoms.
Barium Swallow Test:
This test involves consuming a barium drink (not as bad as you would imagine) in front of an x-ray machine after fasting.
Barium is a chalky liquid that shows up on x-rays, allowing the technicians to see details in the gastrointestinal tract. This can help them find any anomalies in stomach function.
Gastric Emptying Scan:
This test is also known as a Scintigraphy. This is basically a test that measures how quickly food leaves the stomach. For this test, you will go into hospital and eat a small meal containing a small amount of a radioactive substance. For me this day it was some scrambled egg, white toast with jam. I struggled to eat it all as quickly as they needed it to be done, and I can’t say it was my favourite meal alive, but for some, they might actually like it!
After eating this small meal, the radioactivity in the body and particularly in the stomach can be imaged, allows the radiographer to see how quickly the meal leaves the stomach.
Gastric Emptying Breath Test:
Similar to the above, you eat a meal that contains a substance that is absorbed in your intestines and eventually passed into your breath.
This labelled gas can then be measured through the breath to help calculate the gastric emptying rate.
Prepared to bring a book to this test as after you finish the meal, a health care professional will collect a sample of your breath over a period of a few hours. Mine was about 4 hours in total.
Similar to the scan, this test can show how fast your stomach empties after the meal by measuring the amount of the substance in your breath.
These are all the tests I have had. There is also a SmartPill, a small electronic drive that you swallow. If anyone has any first-hand experience with this I can add here please let me know.
What is a Gastroparesis diet?
There isn’t an official Gastroparesis diet however there’s a plethora of opinions and suggestions on food plans, foods that can help, and foods to avoid. For starters, I am adding recipe ideas here.
This can be an incredibly overwhelming topic and so this post alone isn’t going to cover this vast topic.
However, there can be no doubt that many sufferers like myself can feel better for changing how and what they eat.
One of my starting places was to visit a registered dietitian. This really helped me understand the different phases of a Gastroparesis diet and how I can maintain my weight as best as possible.
So whilst it’s frustrating, there is no one best diet for Gastroparesis. Instead, there are specific strategies that help support digestion and stomach motility.
In a nutshell, there are four elements to consider when working out what is best for you. This is inspired by Diet Vs Disease with my own suggestions:
- Liquids: Because of their consistency, thin liquids like water, broth and juices rapidly empty the stomach as they require no digestion and use the effect of gravity to move down to the small intestine. For example, when my Gastroparesis is very bad, I rely on watery medical drinks that have a milky taste (I’m able to find vegan ones) that are packed with calories and minerals but aren’t like a typical milkshake that are thicker inconsistency. Even though you may think these could still be helpful, it can be that some thicker liquids like creamy soups or smoothies empty at a slower rate. Another amazing example I love is Bouillon powder or vegetable stocks.
- Solids: This is a vast area as nearly all solid food requires more work for the stomach. This is because they need to break it down to pass into the small intestine. This process slows stomach emptying. Because of this, an examination can be taken individually based on what solid foods are particularly troubling. We’ll look into this in more depth in future posts.
- Nutrient Composition: To complicate solid foods that are tolerated for the individual, solids foods that are fibre and rich in fats and oils also take longer to empty from the stomach. Of all the food types, carbohydrates can pass through the quickest, followed by proteins. Again, we’ll look at this in a separate post.
- Food Temperature: Finally, the temperature of the food when it enters the stomach affects when it leaves makes such a difference. This is something I don’t see talked about much but once I realised this it helped so much. In fact, it was only until I started to research Ayurveda medicine, and discovered I was a Vata, that it all clicked into place. Until I get round to blogging more about this, hot meals and beverages will exit the stomach faster than cool foods and liquids and I highly recommend utilising this wisdom.
Sadly I couldn’t find an official Gastroparesis Society in the UK, however, I did stumble on an amazing resource called G-PACT.
To celebrate their 15th birthday on August 23, 2016, G-PACT introduced the sweetest, most adorable logo called Hope, a Giant Panda, who is a symbol of their courageous work.
Together with all the medicine and wisdom G-PACT share, sweet Hope is helping to educate others throughout Gastroparesis Awareness Month and beyond.
Why a panda? Well, that’s because G-PACT, like me, see Giant Pandas as having a lot in common with people who have any form of Digestive Tract Paralysis.
Moreover, by keeping hope in our hearts as we battle with a chronic illness we can better imagine a future of treatment, knowledge, and a cure.
As G-PACT say: “Hope is what carries us through when things get tough, and Hope will continue to move us forward.”
- Georgie xoxo Gastroparesis Blog Series
- Georgie xoxo Gastroparesis Recipes
- IFFGD Gastroparesis Awareness Month
- G-PACT Gastroparesis Awareness Month
Thank you so very much for taking the time to read this post and engage in any way you can with this very important Gastroparesis Awareness Month.
I’m truly beyond grateful and your constant love and support is the strength that I will use to create the seemingly impossible things.
Do you have any more questions you’d like to ask me about Gastroparesis? Please leave them below so I can answer them for you.
See you in the next posts!