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What Are the Symptoms of Gastroparesis?

An illustration of a human stomach. Gastroparesis affects how the stomach functions.
Gastroparesis can cause pain, and nausea.
With gastroparesis, food stays in the stomach for an abnormally long time.
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  • Written By: Jillian O Keeffe
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 10 September 2014
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The medical problem gastroparesis is a condition in which food stays in the stomach for an abnormally long time. Most of the symptoms of gastroparesis are related directly to the stomach, but some reflect the inability of the body to efficiently absorb nutrients. Conditions that can cause this problem include diabetes and anorexia as well as some infections.

In healthy people, the muscular wall of the stomach efficiently moves food down into the rest of the digestive system for further processing. When a patient suffers from gastroparesis, this action is slowed. The nerve that signals it is time for the muscles to contract can become damaged, ultimately causing this to happen. Many different medical issues can cause deterioration of this nerve, and result in symptoms of gastroparesis.

Most often, diabetes is the culprit when a doctor identfies symptoms of gastroparesis in a patient, as it causes the circulatory system in the local area to deteriorate, and therefore starves the nerve of nutrients. Diabetics' high blood sugar can also damage the nerve directly. Other possible causes include such as wide range of conditions as anorexia, a form of self-imposed starvation, stomach surgery, or as a side effect of a medicine.

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A slow food transit can cause many problems, such as temporary pain, nausea and malnutrition. The painful symptoms of gastroparesis can be as vague as a localized abdominal pain, or result from sensations of burning through stomach acid on the esophagal tube that leads from the mouth to the stomach. The patient may also experience a feeling of nausea, or have an unusually reduced appetite.

As food remains in the stomach for abnormally long periods, even if the person thinks its time to eat, he or she receive signals of fullness from the stomach after a small quantity of food. The affected person may also vomit back up swallowed food. A full stomach can also cause bloating in the tummy. As the stomach attempts to deal with its contents, without a properly functioning vagus nerve, it can also go into muscle spasms.

Normal stomachs can process food and nutrients efficiently, but gastroparesis disrupts the normal pattern. As a result, when food finally makes its way out of the stomach and into the next portion of the digestive tract, the small intestine, abnormally high levels of glucose from the food can enter the bloodstream. A doctor may be able to pick up the unusual highs and lows of glucose in a patient's blood.

Sometimes the food stays in the stomach so long that it solidifies into lumps. These lumps can physically block the exit of the stomach, and result in vomiting. All of the unpleasant symptoms of gastroparesis, along with the inability of the body to properly absorb nutrients from food, can cause a patient to lose weight.

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