Do you or your senior loved one suffer from chronic stomach or intestinal pain? If so, the culprit might be a gastric motility disorder. Pegasus home care experts in Atwater Village and elsewhere have compiled the following facts about gut health for you.
A system of muscles and nerves move food through the digestive system. The muscles contract in a process called peristalsis. The movement of food by peristalsis is called gastric motility.
When the muscles stop contracting correctly, food doesn’t pass through the digestive system the way it should. The general condition is known as gastric motility disorder. The disorder results in a variety of intestinal problems, which include:
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- Hirschsprung’s disease
- Intestinal dysmotility
- Outlet obstruction type constipation (pelvic floor dyssynergia)
- Small bowel bacterial overgrowth
Some of these conditions are common. Others are familiar only to those who cope with the conditions or to the medical profession. In general, the disorder is the result of damaged muscles or nerves.
Achalasia, for example, results from nerve damage to the esophagus that causes it to empty slowly. Hirschsprung’s disease is damaged or missing nerves that are needed for bowel movements.
Damage occurs in several ways. Occasionally it’s congenital, or present at birth. If the condition occurs when there isn’t damage, it’s classified as idiopathic.
Gastroparesis Is Often Part Of Aging
Stomach paralysis is the layman’s term for gastroparesis. It’s also called colonic ileus, or intestinal pseudo-obstruction. It’s pseudo (false) because it causes the same symptoms as bowel blockage, but there isn’t a blockage.
Occasionally children are born with gastroparesis, but it occurs far more frequently in mature adults. Diabetes is a primary factor in developing the condition. Other causes include:
- Abdominal or pelvic surgery
- Acid reflux (GERD)
- Eating disorders
- Medications, including opioids, antidepressants, blood pressure, others
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Parkinson’s disease
- Radiation and chemotherapy
Depending on the cause, gastroparesis may come and go, or it may be a long-term chronic condition. Part of the reason it affects adults is that many of the causes accompany aging. Additionally, as some seniors become less active, their digestive systems suffer.
Gastric Motility Disorders Can Be Challenging To Diagnose
Some of the gastric motility disorders are hard to diagnose. Gastroparesis falls into that group. The difficulty is because the symptoms are similar to other conditions.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
Many of the other gastric motility disorders share these same symptoms. Other conditions, such as allergies also have those symptoms.
Individuals are often referred to gastroenterologists for diagnosis. Tests can include:
- Blood work
- Gastrointestinal endoscopy
- MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound
- Upper GI series
Various other tests with different degrees of complexity or sophistication may also be performed. Some of the tests are designed to rule out other conditions, such as an ulcer or bowel obstruction.
Treatment Often Depends On The Cause
Treatment often depends on the underlying cause. For example, If the suspected cause is a medicine, another drug can be substituted or the dosage changed.
Treating other conditions, such as GERD, can relieve some of the symptoms. When radiation or chemotherapy is finished, the damage that either has caused may be temporary. Keeping diabetes under control prevents further nerve damage.
Diet modification is an essential part of treatment for any gastric motility disorder. Pegasus services include consultations with a dietitian. Dietitians help individuals make food choices that relieve their symptoms and ensure they are getting good nutrition.
Diet suggestions include the following:
- Eating small meals frequently
- Chewing food thoroughly
- Choosing cooked foods rather than raw
- Avoiding high-fiber and high-fat foods
- Drinking plenty of liquids
Lying down within two hours after eating is not recommended. A prone position makes it more difficult for stomachs to empty. Moderate exercise, such as a short walk, is recommended, as that stimulates the stomach muscles.
Physicians may prescribe medications for certain gastric motility disorders. One class of medications is meant to relieve symptoms such as nausea and vomiting. The second type of drugs is prescribed to stimulate the stomach muscles.
Severe cases of gastric motility disorder may require surgical treatment, such as implanting a gastric pacemaker. A feeding tube might be inserted to prevent malnutrition. Research and clinical trials are underway to find other safe and effective treatments.
Complications Can Be Severe If Untreated
Firstly, treatment is necessary to provide relief from the debilitating symptoms. Secondly, untreated gastric conditions can have serious complications. Malnutrition becomes a problem when food is not properly digested or absorbed.
Vomiting and diarrhea can lead to dehydration. Blood sugar levels are difficult to control when undigested food sits in the gut. If that food sits long enough, it solidifies into an obstruction. Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our team of home care professionals in Atwater Village and our other locations tailors services to fit individual needs. Our assistance is provided with dignity and respect for privacy regardless of medical conditions.