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by Swedish Staff and Contributors

Gastroparesis Defined
What Causes Gastroparesis
Risk Factors

Symptoms of Gastroparesis

Symptoms of gastroparesis may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling full quickly when eating a meal
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain or pain in your esophagus (throat)
  • Heartburn
  • Weight loss

Symptoms can worsen when consuming the following foods:

  • High-fiber foods including raw vegetables and fruits
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Fatty foods

Gastroparesis Defined

Gastroparesis (also called delayed gastric emptying) is a disorder that affects your digestive system. During normal digestion, your stomach breaks down food and then contracts to push food down into your small intestine. Gastroparesis occurs when your stomach takes longer than normal to empty of food – food either moves slowly through the digestive tract or does not move at all. Food can harden causing blockage, nausea and vomiting. Bacteria may also grow. Gastroparesis is a potentially serious, lifelong condition that requires care from a doctor to manage it.

Stomach and Intestines

copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

What Causes Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis occurs when the nerve that controls your stomach muscles (the vagus nerve) is damaged. The vagus nerve can be damaged by diseases such as diabetes or by surgery to your stomach or small intestine. 


A physical exam is needed to diagnose gastroparesis. Your doctor will ask about your medical history and any symptoms you may be experiencing. The following tests or procedures may be done:

  • Blood tests
  • Tests to measure your stomach’s volume before and after a meal; how fast your stomach empties; and the ability of your stomach muscles and small intestine to contract and relax
  • Imaging tests:
  • Ultrasound —uses sound waves to create an image of organs inside your body
  • Barium X-ray —uses a milky fluid to coat the lining of your intestines to create an X-ray image
  • Gastric emptying study—uses radioactive meal to measure stomach emptying directly with an X-ray
  • Other procedures
  • Upper endoscopy —a thin, lighted tube (fiber-optic scope) that’s inserted down your throat to examine your esophagus, stomach and small intestine
  • Smart Pill—a pill-sized device that’s swallowed and provides information on your digestive system


Talk with your doctor about the best treatment options for you. These may include:


Managing your diet and what you eat can help control gastroparesis. You may work with your doctor or a registered dietitian to create a meal plan that’s right for you. The meal plan may include:

  • Limiting high-fat and high-fiber foods
  • Eating small meals several times a day
  • Following a liquid diet

Alternative Nutrition

For severe cases of gastroparesis, feeding tubes may be inserted down your throat or through your abdomen and into your intestines, bypassing your stomach, to help deliver food and nutrients to your body. Nutrients may also be delivered directly to your bloodstream through a thin tube that is placed in one of your veins.


Symptoms of gastroparesis may be treated with medications to help empty your stomach. These medications work by stimulating the contraction of stomach muscles. Examples include:

  • Metoclopramide (Reglan)
  • Erythromycin

Other medications may be prescribed to reduce nausea.


In severe cases of gastroparesis, your doctor may consider surgery including removing part of your stomach.

Risk Factors

The main risk factor for gastroparesis is diabetes. Diabetes and high blood sugar can damage blood vessels that carry nutrients and oxygen to your vagus nerve, the nerve that controls your stomach muscles, preventing it from working properly. Other risk factors include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Surgery that involves your stomach or vagus nerve
  • Infection from a virus
  • Taking certain medicines (e.g., anticholinergics or narcotics)
  • Diseases affecting metabolism (your body’s ability to make and use energy)
  • Diseases affecting your nerves, muscles or hormones
  • Radiation or chemotherapy
  • Anorexia or bulimia


To help reduce your chances of developing gastroparesis, do the following:

  • Control diabetes. Diabetes is a common risk factor for gastroparesis and if you have diabetes, it’s important that you follow treatment plans from your doctor.
  • Avoid medications which can delay gastric emptying. Some medications, including narcotic pain medicines, calcium channel blockers and some antidepressants, may keep your stomach from emptying properly. Keep a list of all medicines you’re taking and share this list with your doctor. Be sure to talk with your doctor before stopping any medicines.

This content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Swedish.