Gastro-what? is the usual response.
Although uncommon, poorly understood and under-researched, it is estimated to affect around 5 million Americans which is not an insignificant number of people. One gastroenterologist, based in the U.K., told me that he sees on average 2 patients each week with the condition: they are usually female and in their twenties or thirties.
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders defines gastroparesis as a condition where symptoms occur because of delayed gastric emptying when the stomach empties too slowly. Normally, the stomach empties its contents in a controlled manner into the small intestines. With gastroparesis, the muscle contractions (motility) that move food along the digestive tract do not work properly and the stomach empties too slowly. Gastroparesis is characterized by the presence of certain long-term symptoms together with delayed stomach emptying in the absence of any observable obstruction or blockage. The delayed stomach emptying is confirmed by a test.
Typical symptoms include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Stomach fullness after eating and drinking
- Early fullness (satiety) – unable to finish a meal
- Heartburn and acid reflux
- Stomach and abdominal pain
- Weight gain or weight loss
Relying solely on medication and pain relief is not usually an effective way of managing the very variable and often severe symptoms associated with gastroparesis. Instead, a combination of medical management, dietary modification and lifestyle practices is usually required. The most challenging aspect of this illness is working out what works for you. That really is half the battle. And because gastroparesis is not a static condition but one that can change hour to hour, day to day, month to month, you need to constantly fine-tune your management of it.
Google gastroparesis and you will see some truly terrifying pictures and read some horrible stories. Emaciated patients often hooked up to feeding tubes left to waste away in agony. It does not have to be like this. If well managed, it is possible to live a full and enjoyable life with gastroparesis. Although it is considered a chronic, long-term condition, there are examples of people who consider themselves in remission and/or their symptoms have completely resolved.
Without doubt, the best resource I have come across is ‘Living (Well!) with Gastroparesis‘ a blog and website run by Crystal Saltrelli: a speaker, author, and Certified Health Coach, who has gastroparesis herself. Her mission is to help people worldwide learn to live (well!) with gastroparesis. If you have recently been diagnosed with gastroparesis, or are struggling to live with the condition, then please visit Crystal’s website. She offers practical, sensible and positive advice that really does enable you to manage this very challenging condition and build a life worth living.