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What you need to know about this rare condition that paralyzes your stomach

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Gastroparesis is estimated to affect up to five million people in the United States.

You’re probably no stranger to stomachaches, bloating, or abdominal cramps. But when a few bouts of stomach discomfort turn into chronic, unbearable pain and affect your day-to-day, a gastrointestinal disorder could be to blame.

Sure, you’ve heard of Crohn’s disease, IBS, and Celiac disease (you know, the condition that made eating gluten-free so trendy). But there’s one disorder that’s not as well-known—but should be. Introducing: gastroparesis.

This chronic digestive disorder translates literally to “stomach paralysis.” According to the American College of Gastroenterology, “Gastroparesis is a digestive disorder in which the motility of the stomach is either abnormal or absent.” In other words, the stomach of a gastroparesis sufferer is unable to contract normally and can’t break down food or propel it into the small intestine as a healthy stomach could. This inability to break down food means normal digestion may not occur.

Why is this a problem? Not digesting your food properly can cause a wide range of issues, like malnutrition, unpredictable blood sugar changes, and undigested food that hardens and remains in your stomach (this undigested food can harden into a solid mass called a bezoar), says the Mayo Clinic. Plus, flare-ups can make it difficult to keep up with work, family, and other responsibilities.

The most common signs and symptoms of this debilitating disease are nausea, vomiting, dry heaving, and feeling full after a small amount of food. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, other gastroparesis patients also report experiencing bloating, stomach pain, heartburn and acid reflux, and unintended weight loss. Because these symptoms are common with other conditions, gastroparesis is tricky to diagnose. On average, a gastroparesis diagnosis is made five years after symptoms begin.

A diagnosis could consist of blood tests, an upper endoscopy (where the doctor uses a flexible scope to look into the stomach), an upper GI series (when the stomach is examined through x-rays or ultrasounds), and a test to measure how fast the stomach empties (this last one is needed to confirm the diagnosis).

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for gastroparesis. Right now, the best patients can do is to combine different approaches to manage symptoms. Treatment could consist of dietary and lifestyle measures, medications, surgical procedures like enteral nutrition (a feeding tube), or gastric electrical stimulation.

Gastroparesis is estimated to affect up to five million people in the United States. If you think you could be one of them, it’s crucial that you speak to your doctor.

August is Gastroparesis Awareness Month. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of gastroparesis, make an appointment with the experts at Gastroenterology & Associates of Pensacola. Call 850-474-8988 or visit them online at www.endo-world.com.