By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Gastroparesis is a long term condition. It leads to inability of the stomach to empty its contents in the intestines. There is usually no blockage but damage to the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is one of the most important nerves that regulate the muscles of the stomach and intestines and helps in forward propulsion of food.
When this nerve and other important nerves are damaged the muscles of the stomach and intestines do not work properly and the movement of food is slowed.
Causes of nerve damage
In some of the cases of gastroparesis the cause of the damage to the nerves is unknown. This is called idiopathic gastroparesis.
The most common cause of gastroparesis however is underlying diabetes mellitus. Diabetes leads to increased blood sugar. Raise blood sugar often damages blood vessels that supply essential nutrients to the nerves.
Over time diabetes damages nerves in a process called neuropathy. When the vagus nerve is damaged it predisposes a person to develop gastroparesis.
Other causes of gastroparesis
Other causes of gastroparesis include:-
Gastroparesis may occur after surgical damage to the stomach muscles and nerves. This may occur as a complication of some types of surgery, such as removal of part of the stomach or gastrectomy.
Some medicines also cause gastroparesis. Medications and drugs associated with impaired gastric emptying include narcotics, tricyclic antidepressants, calcium channel blockers (like verapamil), clonidine, dopamine agonists (such as those used in Parkinson’s disease), Lithium (used for bipolar disorders), Nicotine and Progesterone
Nerve diseases like Parkinson’s disease also lead to gastroparesis
Multiple sclerosis is another important cause of gastroparesis
Diseases like amyloidosis and sclerosderma may also cause gastroparesis. Scleroderma results in hard, thickened areas of skin and other areas. Amyloidosis leads to deposits of abnormal protein in tissues and organs throughout the body
Some viral infections
Anorexia and bulimia nervosa may also cause gastroparesis over time as a complication
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Metabolic disorders including hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid functioning may also cause gastroparesis.
Cancer radiation treatment applied over the chest or abdomen may also damage the nerves and lead to gastroparesis
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Nov 8, 2013