Gastroparesis Institute team: John C. Lipham, MD
Gastroparesis is a stomach disorder in
which food moves through the stomach
more slowly than normal. In a healthy
digestive system, strong muscular
contractions move food from the
stomach through the digestive tract.
With gastroparesis, however, the stomach
muscles work poorly (or not at all), thus
preventing the stomach from emptying
The impact of gastroparesis on physical
well-being can be devastating. It can
cause chronic nausea and vomiting and
lead to malnutrition and inadequate
blood sugar levels. Living with
gastroparesis also affects emotional
well-being—the constant discomfort of
chronic nausea and vomiting can have an
impact on school and work performance,
family and personal relationships, and
The number of people with gastroparesis
is unknown. There is no cure, but there
are therapies that improve symptoms
and offer hope for a better quality of life.
How the Stomach Works
The stomach’s job involves storage of
food, mixing food with stomach secretions,
grinding food into small particles, and
moving these particles into the small
intestine. Solids and liquids empty at
different rates, and emptying is controlled
by muscle contractions in different
regions of the stomach. All of these
processes should occur at a rate that
makes digestion easy and efficient.
If stomach muscle contractions stop
working properly, the result can be “delayed gastric emptying,” where
undigested food and fluids sit in the
stomach and cause uncomfortable
symptoms such as chronic nausea
Normal Stomach Emptying
Gastric emptying involves storage, the mixing of food with stomach secretions, the grinding of food into small particles, and the
movement of ground particles into the small intestine at a rate that optimizes digestion. Solids and liquids empty at different rates, and
emptying is controlled by muscle contractions in different regions of the stomach.
Liquid emptying is rapid and is controlled by the upper portion of the stomach (fundus). Emptying of digestible solids is characterized
by a lag during which stored food moves from the upper to the lower stomach (antrum), where it is ground into small particles by
powerful circular contractions. The lag phase is followed by an emptying phase during which the ground particles move from the lower
stomach into the duodenum and small intestine.
Stomach muscle contractions are controlled by electrical signals generated at the junction of the upper one-third and lower twothirds
of the stomach. The major factor controlling this electrical activity is feedback from neural receptors in the small intestine.
Studies have shown that even when there is no apparent neurological damage, many cases of gastroparesis result from a deficiency in
Impact of Gastroparesis on Patients
Gastroparesis is a debilitating condition because of chronic nausea and vomiting and the severity of abdominal discomfort. If vomiting
episodes cannot be controlled through dietary modification or medication, then dehydration, significant weight loss, and poor nutrition
In chronic cases, patients are forced to withdraw from school, work, and social activity because they lack the physical energy needed to
perform normal daily activities. Patients may become too weak to get out of bed and may require hospitalization to restore fluids and
provide nutritional support.
Nutritional support via a surgically inserted feeding tube or indwelling intravenous catheter may be necessary if sufficient caloric intake
cannot be maintained. These methods of nourishment carry the risk of infection in an already compromised individual.
Next: Causes and Symptoms of Gastroparesis