The challenges of living with a poorly understood condition
Gastroparesis is an uncommon condition and some doctors may not have encountered it before. Your doctor may need to research your symptoms or refer you to a gastroenterologist. Even for gastroenterologists, gastroparesis can be a complex and challenging condition. Often it will not be possible to identify a physical cause for your symptoms.
The lack of an obvious physical explanation for the condition can be very confusing for patients, family, and friends – sometimes leading to the belief that the patient is somehow making themselves sick, or that they should be able to mentally control the symptoms.
It is important to understand that, even when we don’t know the cause of the condition, the symptoms are very real and can cause significant disruption to a person’s life.
Try to learn as much as you can about gastroparesis. There are many online resources that provide information about the condition, including this website. Learning about gastroparesis will help you feel more empowered, and better able to communicate about the condition with your family and friends. You might also wish to share some resources with your loved ones. Remember however that this is a variable condition and that the experiences of others, what works or not for them may not apply to you.
Below are some commons concerns for gastroparesis patients:
Gastroparesis does not lead to the development of cancer.
Sometimes cancer treatments can slow down gastric emptying and lead to gastroparesis symptoms as a side-effect. This can complicate anticancer therapies.
Further research is needed to understand whether gastroparesis runs in families. A genetic component to gastroparesis has not yet been found.
Genetic factors can predispose a person to develop diabetes, which is one of the most common causes of gastroparesis. However, lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise also play a substantial role in the development of diabetes.
As long as symptoms are controlled and adequate nutrition can be maintained, gastroparesis should not hinder a pregnancy. It is advisable however to consult with an obstetrician before pregnancy to discuss plans and what medications will be safe to take before and during pregnancy.
Women might find that their gastroparesis symptoms are worse during pregnancy, and gastroparesis might exacerbate feelings of morning sickness, and of course treatment options are more limited during pregnancy.
For some people, smoking can speed up gastric emptying. However, quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your health and wellbeing. Smoking is linked to countless health issues (e.g. cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness) and can cause 16 different types of cancer. For more information, see quit.org.au.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle
Gastroparesis symptoms can make it difficult to participate in the activities you’re used to. For example, studying and attending work might become more challenging, or you might not feel well enough to exercise or pursue your usual hobbies.
Socialising can be particularly difficult because we tend to meet with people over food or drink. This can be a problem when you can’t eat or drink in what is considered the ‘normal’ way. People with gastroparesis sometimes feel judged by others because of their symptoms, their appearance, and their eating or drinking behaviour.
These challenges can result in gastroparesis sufferers giving up previously meaningful activities and interactions. This can lead to feelings of having lost their sense of identity, and also feelings of being isolated and unsupported.
Instead of giving up your interests due to gastroparesis symptoms, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by focusing on what you are still able to do. For example, some days you might not be able to go for your usual run, but you might be able to go for a walk. Or, you could swap a night out with friends for a movie night at home with friends. Instead of meeting for lunch, you could suggest meeting for a cup of tea or visiting a park or gallery.
If participating in certain activities brings up feelings of anxiety or distress for you, relaxation techniques or other coping strategies might help you to manage the feelings. If you feel that you are not coping effectively, it might be helpful to seek support from a mental health professional.
It is important to remember that the more you avoid situations, the more fearful you will become of them. Do your best to participate in activities that interest you, and to maintain the relationships that are meaningful to you.
Other issues associated with gastroparesis:
Cancer and gastroparesis: Transient gastroparesis can sometimes occur as a side-effect of cancer treatments. This can complicate anticancer therapies, delay medication absorption, and further impair quality of life. However, gastroparesis does not lead to the development of cancer.
Smoking and gastroparesis: Smoking has the potential to cause a multitude of diseases in long term use, and can increase the risk of gastrointestinal cancers. While there is some evidence that smoking may speed up gastric emptying in some people, this must be considered alongside the numerous health consequences associated with smoking.
Passing on gastroparesis: At this stage, a genetic component to gastroparesis has not been found. Further research will be needed to shed light on whether gastroparesis is likely to run in families. However, it is possible to inherit a predisposition to diabetes, which is one of the causes of gastroparesis. Lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise will also affect the likelihood of developing diabetes.
Pregnancy and gastroparesis: Provided that the gastroparesis patient is maintaining adequate nutrition, the disorder should not hinder a pregnancy.However, pregnancy may further delay gastric emptying in some people, and gastroparesis symptoms may worsen, or may exacerbate pregnancy related symptoms such as morning sickness.