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Gastroparesis: Part 1

Gastroparesis (GP) is a condition in which stomach contents are not emptied into the small intestine within an appropriate time period without an obvious anatomical explanation.  Gastroparesis patients are highly symptomatic, with approximately 90% reporting nausea, 84% vomiting, and abdominal pain, bloating, feeling unable to eat more after a small portion and feeling very “full” after even a small meal.  Some patients can manage their symptoms with dietary changes and medication, while others continue to be significantly symptomatic.

In some people, GP manifests episodically, with no symptoms for periods of time between flares.  In others, symptoms are chronic and perpetual.  Malnutrition, dehydration and weight loss can be severe in some cases.  Despite the primary functional feature of gastroparesis being the delayed emptying of the stomach, the degree to which gastric emptying is slowed correlates poorly with symptoms and severity of symptoms.

Gastroparesis affects at least 37.8 women/100000 persons and 9.6 men/100000 persons.  Once thought to be uncommon, it is now thought that gastroparesis may affect up to 2% of the population.  Hospital admissions for gastroparesis have increased dramatically in the last two decades, with a 158% increase between 1995 and 2004, with 138% of that increase occurring between 2000 and 2004.  There are several possible reasons for this phenomenon, including changes to criteria, better recognition and the withdrawal of cisapride from the market, a medication that alleviated some gastroparesis symptoms.

Gastroparesis is marked by generic gastrointestinal symptoms which can make it hard to identify unless the clinician is familiar with this condition.  Initially, it is often mistaken for functional dyspepsia.  For patients who have distinct episodes rather than continuous symptoms, patients are sometimes misdiagnosed with cyclic vomiting syndrome.

Gastroparesis can occur as a result of a number of diseases or circumstances.  Diabetes and surgery are the most commonly reported causes.  Idiopathic gastroparesis, in which no specific cause can be found, is often the most common in patient groups studied, with up to 1/3 of patients having this type.  Autonomic neuropathy, connective tissue diseases, autoimmune disease, thyroid disease can also cause gastroparesis, among many other conditions.



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