The functional impairment of stomach peristalsis is a serious medical condition known as gastric dysmotility. Triggered by the stomach muscles’ inability to properly usher food through the lower portion of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, gastric dysmotility can induce a variety of symptoms and complications. There is no cure for gastric dysmotility, therefore, treatment for this condition generally involves dietary changes and may require additional measures, including the administration of medications and surgery.
The development of impaired muscle function demonstrated with gastric dysmotility often presents with a variety of signs and symptoms. Those with this condition commonly develop persistent nausea and vomiting, which can lead to dehydration. Individuals with gastric dysmotility, also known as gastroparesis, frequently experience unintended weight loss and malnutrition. Symptomatic individuals may also be diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which is characterized by the accumulation of excess gastric acid in the stomach, due to diminished digestion. The inability of the stomach to fully process the food it contains commonly causes abdominal distention and pronounced blood glucose fluctuations.
The progressive nature of undiagnosed gastroparesis symptoms places a symptomatic individual at a greater risk for the development of complications. If left untreated, gastroparesis can lead to the solidification of undigested food in the lower portion of the stomach, ultimately forming a mass known as a bezoar. The presence of a bezoar can impair intestinal function leading to a potentially life-threatening condition requiring prompt, appropriate treatment. Additionally, the long-term presence of undigested food particles in the stomach may contribute to bacterial imbalance increasing an individual’s risk for further complications, including infection.
For most individuals, symptom persistence generally prompts a visit to a physician. If gastroparesis is suspected, a diagnostic tool known as a gastric-emptying study may be utilized to assess the efficiency of an individual’s digestive system. Imaging tests may also be performed to evaluate the condition and functionality of the upper portion of the GI tract. Taken as a whole, the test results may be evaluated to determine the underlying cause for the gastroparesis and rule out other conditions that may mimic gastric dysmotility in presentation.
There is no single, contributory factor associated with the development of the impaired muscle function that presents with gastric dysmotility. It has been asserted that damage to the vagus nerve, often resulting from injury or the presence of disease, may interfere with the signal communications necessary for proper food digestion. Since there is no cure for gastroparesis, treatment is often multifaceted in approach and centered on appropriate symptom management.
Generally, dietary changes are the first step in any treatment approach. Individuals are often encouraged to consume less food and eat frequent, smaller meals throughout the day. Food recommendations are often personalized, including foods the individual may easily digest. Those who experience severe complications or a complete intolerance for any form of food consumption may have a feeding tube, known as a jejunostomy tube, inserted. The permanence of the feeding tube is often contingent on several factors, including the stabilization of one's condition.
It is not uncommon for medications to be utilized to help alleviate the effects of certain symptoms. In many cases, a stimulant-like medication may be given to help promote proper stomach peristalsis. Those who experience persistent vomiting and nausea may be prescribed an anti-emetic medication to prevent dehydration and malnutrition. When neither dietary changes nor medications work to alleviate symptoms, surgery may be performed to improve stomach peristalsis and proper digestive system function.