Digestive Tract Paralysis Awareness Month is celebrated during August, the same as Gastroparesis Awareness Month, with the two observances having similar aims, i.e. to bring more attention to the fact that there is much to be done in terms of research and treatment for disorders of the digestive tract.
Professional caregivers have seen countless cases of digestive tract problems in their senior charges, and for that reason, they urge people to become more in tune with their bodies, particularly about what’s happening in the area of the gut, where so many bodily processes are constantly occurring. In Water Valley and elsewhere around the country, seniors are cautioned to achieve a greater understanding of what’s involved in gastroparesis, and to become more knowledgeable about treatment, so that a good Quality of Life can be maintained.
What exactly is gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is a disease which causes at least a partial paralysis in the stomach area, thereby preventing it from digesting food and evacuating stomach contents properly. Nerves and muscles which have become damaged don’t work properly in coordination and lack their usual strength. This causes a much slower movement of stomach contents through the rest of the digestive system, and that in turn can lead to other issues.
There is no actual blockage in the area of the stomach, but the slowness of processing can cause bloating, chronic abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and a severe loss of appetite. People who have diabetes often have difficulty controlling their level of blood sugar when they also have gastroparesis. Despite the problems that it can cause, gastroparesis is frequently overlooked as a cause of the symptoms experienced by some patients.
The chronic abdominal pain can lead it to be misdiagnosed as some kind of ulcer, an allergic reaction, heartburn, or acid reflux. Doctors theorize that as many as 40% of all patients who experience some level of acid reflux may actually have at least a low level of gastroparesis, which is delaying the evacuation of stomach contents.
Causes of gastroparesis
The single greatest cause of gastroparesis is some kind of damage which has occurred to peripheral nerves and muscles in the digestive tract. For many diabetic patients, it shows up as a kind of neuropathy which is associated with damaged nerves. For those patients who are not bothered by diabetes, the cause of gastroparesis is more likely attributable to muscle damage, in which the nerve endings are still functional but muscles cannot respond properly.
Other causes of gastroparesis can include side effects from various medications, especially those which are narcotic in nature. Patients who already have muscular dystrophy or multiple sclerosis may develop gastroparesis when damage occurs to nerves and muscles. There are also times where a patient will acquire some kind of virus and will develop symptoms that include nausea and vomiting, but the symptoms persist even after the virus is gone. These kinds of lingering after-effects from a virus can remain in the digestive tract to cause symptoms which mimic gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis and signs of aging
Studies have shown that elderly individuals are more inclined to develop gastrointestinal disorders than are younger persons. There is an increased occurrence of several of the most common gastrointestinal disorders associated with the elderly. Many of these disorders are related to function and motility, with the gastroenterologist frequently encountering senior patients suffering from dyspepsia, anorexia, dysphagia, and disorders related to the colon.
Because there is a greater occurrence of such gastrointestinal disorders among the elderly, a huge effort has been focused on trying to understand the age-related changes which occur to their physiology, and how that impacts senior citizens. Because seniors are predisposed to alterations in body composition, circulatory effectiveness, renal function, and hepatic size, the effects of any problems associated with the digestive tract are often magnified.
Treatment for gastroparesis
The first approach to treating gastroparesis is for a doctor to recommend changes in a patient’s diet, and sometimes in the medications they’re taking. When these modifications fail to achieve the desired results, more serious measures must be taken. Depending on the severity of the gastroparesis, it may be necessary to insert a feeding tube through the patient’s nose which completely circumvents the stomach.
It’s also possible that a surgeon may insert a J-tube directly into an individual’s small bowel. If neither of these approaches is recommended, it may be necessary to feed the patient through an IV in a process known as Total Patient Nutrition (TPN). One last possibility is for a surgeon to undertake laparoscopic surgery and implant a pacemaker in the digestive tract, so as to stimulate stomach muscles to perform their normal functions.
Gentle electrical pulses are triggered by the pacemaker and conveyed to the stomach muscles, and this helps to restore normal functionality in the digestive tract. As you may have inferred, there is no known cure for gastroparesis, but there are several treatment possibilities which have been designed to correct the problem. Doctors say that the earlier that gastroparesis can be diagnosed, the more likely it will be that some form of effective treatment can be devised to help manage the condition.