Gastroparesis Diagnosis & Treatment
The diagnosis of gastroparesis is confirmed through one or more of the following tests:
- Barium x ray. After fasting for 12 hours, you will drink a thick liquid called barium, which coats the inside of the stomach, making it show up on the x ray. Normally, the stomach will be empty of all food after 12 hours of fasting. If the x ray shows food in the stomach, gastroparesis is likely. If the x ray shows an empty stomach but the doctor still suspects that you have delayed emptying, you may need to repeat the test another day. On any one day, a person with gastroparesis may digest a meal normally, giving a falsely normal test result. If you have diabetes, your doctor may have special instructions about fasting.
- Barium beefsteak meal. You will eat a meal that contains barium, thus allowing the radiologist to watch your stomach as it digests the meal. The amount of time it takes for the barium meal to be digested and leave the stomach gives the doctor an idea of how well the stomach is working. This test can help detect emptying problems that do not show up on the liquid barium x ray. In fact, people who have diabetes-related gastroparesis often digest fluid normally, so the barium beefsteak meal can be more useful.
- Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan. You will eat food that contains a radioisotope, a slightly radioactive substance that will show up on the scan. The dose of radiation from the radioisotope is small and not dangerous. After eating, you will lie under a machine that detects the radioisotope and shows an image of the food in the stomach and how quickly it leaves the stomach. Gastroparesis is diagnosed if more than half of the food remains in the stomach after 2 hours.
- Gastric manometry. This test measures electrical and muscular activity in the stomach. The doctor passes a thin tube down the throat into the stomach. The tube contains a wire that takes measurements of the stomach's electrical and muscular activity as it digests liquids and solid food. The measurements show how the stomach is working and whether there is any delay in digestion.
- Blood tests. The doctor may also order laboratory tests to check blood counts and to measure chemical and electrolyte levels.
To rule out causes of gastroparesis other than diabetes, the doctor may do an upper endoscopy or an ultrasound.
- Upper endoscopy. After giving you a sedative, the doctor passes a long, thin tube called an endoscope through the mouth and gently guides it down the esophagus into the stomach. Through the endoscope, the doctor can look at the lining of the stomach to check for any abnormalities.
- Ultrasound. To rule out gallbladder disease or pancreatitis as a source of the problem, you may have an ultrasound test, which uses harmless sound waves to outline and define the shape of the gallbladder and pancreas.
The primary treatment goal for gastroparesis related to diabetes is to regain control of blood glucose levels. Treatments include insulin, oral medications, changes in what and when you eat, and, in severe cases, feeding tubes and intravenous feeding.
It is important to note that in most cases treatment does not cure gastroparesis it is usually a chronic condition. Treatment helps you manage the condition so that you can be as healthy and comfortable as possible.
Insulin for blood glucose control
If you have gastroparesis, your food is being absorbed more slowly and at unpredictable times. To control blood glucose, you may need to
- take insulin more often
- take your insulin after you eat instead of before
- check your blood glucose levels frequently after you eat and administer insulin whenever necessary
Your doctor will give you specific instructions based on your particular needs.
Several drugs are used to treat gastroparesis. Your doctor may try different drugs or combinations of drugs to find the most effective treatment.
- Metoclopramide (Reglan) or Domperidone. These drugs stimulate stomach muscle contractions to help empty food.They also help reduce nausea and vomiting. Metoclopramide is taken 20 to 30 minutes before meals and at bedtime. Side effects of this drug are fatigue, sleepiness, and sometimes depression, anxiety, and problems with physical movement.
- Erythromycin. This antibiotic also improves stomach emptying. It works by increasing the contractions that move food through the stomach. Side effects are nausea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps.
- Other medications. Other medications may be used to treat symptoms and problems related to gastroparesis. For example, an antiemetic can help with nausea and vomiting. Antibiotics will clear up a bacterial infection. If you have a bezoar, the doctor may use an endoscope to inject medication that will dissolve it.
A gastric neurostimulator has been developed to assist people with gastroparesis. The battery-operated device is surgically implanted and emits mild electrical pulses that help control nausea and vomiting associated with gastroparesis. This option is available to people whose nausea and vomiting do not improve with medications.
The use of botulinum toxin has been shown to improve stomach emptying and the symptoms of gastroparesis by decreasing the prolonged contractions of the muscle between the stomach and the small intestine (pyloric sphincter). The toxin is injected into the pyloric sphincter.
Adapted and excerpted from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, National Institutes of Health.
Reviewed by Francine Kaufman, MD. 01/09
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