Gastroparesis

  • Medical Author:
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: Bhupinder Anand, MD
woman with abdominal pain

Gastroparesis facts

  • Gastroparesis is a disease of the muscles of the stomach or the nerves controlling the muscles that causes the muscles to stop working.
  • Gastroparesis results in inadequate grinding of food by the stomach, and poor emptying of food from the stomach into the intestine.
  • The primary symptoms of gastroparesis are nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
  • Gastroparesis is best diagnosed by a test called agastric emptying study.
  • Gastroparesis usually is treated with nutritional support, drugs for treating nausea and vomiting, drugs that stimulate the muscle to contract, and, less often, electrical pacing, and surgery.

What is gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis means weakness of the muscles of the stomach. Gastroparesis results in poor grinding of food in the stomach into small particles and slow emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.

The stomach is a hollow organ composed primarily of muscle. Solid food that has been swallowed is stored in the stomach while it is ground into tiny pieces by the constant churning generated by rhythmic contractions of the stomach's muscles. Smaller particles are digested better in the small intestine than larger particles, and only food that has been ground into small particles is emptied from the stomach and well digested. Liquid food does not require grinding.

The ground solid and liquid food is emptied from the stomach into the small intestine slowly in a metered fashion. The metering process allows the emptied food to be well-mixed with the digestive juices of the small intestine, pancreas, and liver (bile) and to be absorbed well from the intestine. The metering process by which solid and liquid foods are emptied from the stomach is a result of a combination of relaxation of the muscle in parts of the stomach designed to accommodate (store) food, and the pressure generated by the muscle in other parts of the stomach that pushes the food into the small intestine. (Thus, the stomach can store and empty food at the same time.) The metering also is controlled by the opening and closing of the pylorus, the muscular opening of the stomach into the small intestine.

When the contractions of the stomach's muscles are weakened, food is not thoroughly ground and does not empty into the intestine normally. Since the muscular actions whereby solid food and liquid food are emptied from the stomach are slightly different, the emptying of solids and liquids follows different time courses, and there may be slow emptying of solid food (most common), solid and liquid food (less common), or liquid food alone (least common).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/23/2016

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