Gastroparesis is a condition in which the stomach cannot empty itself of food normally.

Gastroparesis can be caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which regulates the digestive system. This damage prevents the muscles in the stomach and intestine from functioning and the food cannot move through the digestive system properly.

The likely causes of gastroparesis include uncontrolled diabetes, gastric surgery with injury to the vagus nerve, medications, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis, to name a few.

The symptoms of gastroparesis are heartburn, nausea, vomiting, feeling full quickly while eating, abdominal bloating, poor appetite, weight loss and/or poor blood sugar control.

Because many of the symptoms can be ambiguous, a physician specializing in gastroenterology is highly recommended.

Treatment of gastroparesis includes diet, medication and devices/procedures which help to facilitate stomach emptying.

Gastroenterologists possess many tools to assist in diagnosing gastroparesis. Once the physician determines a patient has gastroparesis, medications can assist in controlling symptoms to make the disease manageable.

Additionally, diet modifications may help-a registered dietitian can assist in devising an appropriate meal plan to help with gastroparesis.

The gastroparesis diet mainly focuses on four components:

Eat small, more frequent meals: Instead of three meals a day, eat six small meals. There is less food in the stomach which makes it easier for the stomach to empty. Plus, you may not feel as full when eating smaller amounts of food frequently. Remain upright for an hour after eating to help the stomach empty.

Consistency: The stomach can process liquids and low residue foods more effectively. Liquids include water, smoothies and juices; low residue foods include applesauce and mashed potatoes. It is easier for your stomach to process these foods, for example, versus whole apples or potatoes with skin.

Eat low-fat foods: Avoid high-fat foods, which can slow down digestion. Fat causes the release of hormones that slow down the emptying of the stomach; therefore, low-fat foods will empty faster from the stomach and are recommended.

Choose a low-fiber diet: Fiber can be difficult to digest, and high-fiber foods can slow the rate of gastric emptying. In addition, these foods can swell in the stomach and cause fullness. Limit raw vegetables, fruit/vegetable skins and fiber-rich grains.

People with gastroparesis often need to restrict their diet and a general multivitamin may be recommended to avoid nutritional deficiencies. Your doctor and dietitian will be able to evaluate your nutritional status and prescribe an appropriate supplement if needed.

Carey Stites is a certified personal trainer, group fitness instructor and a Registered Dietitian with a master’s degree in nutrition. Carey is currently the Registered Dietitian working with Wellstone in Harker Heights. Contact her at carey.stites@smchh.org.

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