Symptoms of gastroparesis
Nausea and vomiting
Nausea refers to the feeling of needing to vomit, and in gastroparesis may result in vomiting, often of food eaten some time before. Nausea is usually treated by dietary changes or medication, however dietary modification, at home remedies such as drinking ginger tea or taking ginger capsules may also help.
Bloating and distention
Bloating is the feeling of fullness. Similar to bloating is distention. Distention is the enlargement or protrusion of the abdominal wall and may or may not be present with bloating. Dietary modifications guided by a dietitian can often help with bloating and distention.
Early satiety is a feeling of being full after eating only a small amount of food, and being unable to finish a normal-sized meal.
Postprandial fullness is a feeling of unusual and unpleasant fullness following a meal.
Gastroparesis is known to cause pain in the abdomen. The pain is variable, but may be cramp-like and is almost always made worse by eating. Dietary changes and medications (over the counter or prescribed) may reduce the pain and applying a heat pack to the area can also help.
Pain management techniques used by psychologists (e.g. cognitive behavioural therapy) can be helpful for coping with chronic pain and maintaining quality of life.
Fatigue refers to tiredness, weakness, and a lack of energy. Fatigue can be experienced physically, mentally, or both, and can cause problems with concentration, memory, coordination, judgment, reaction times, muscle strength, immune system function, and moodiness.
Please note that these symptoms can mimic a number of other health conditions and it is important to seek a proper diagnosis.
Gastroparesis symptoms can make it difficult to maintain normal eating patterns and can sometimes lead to dehydration, malnutrition, and weight loss. In severe cases, a person with gastroparesis might need to receive fluid and nutrition supplementation using a feeding tube.
The symptoms of gastroparesis can have a substantial impact on quality of life, interfering with work, study, physical activities, and relationships. It is also common for people with gastroparesis to experience psychological distress and to have adverse experiences within the health care system.
Depression and anxiety
People with gastroparesis often experience depression and anxiety. Different studies have found that:
- Nearly one in four (22-23%) gastroparesis patients experience depression.
- Over one in ten (12%) experience severe anxiety.
- About one in four (24%) experience a combination of depression and anxiety.
People can experience depression and anxiety for many reasons. Feelings of distress may be brought on by stressful situations such as relationship problems, financial challenges, and past trauma.
Physical symptoms can also lead to distress. Symptoms such as pain, discomfort and illness can be challenging to deal with, and can interfere with day-to-day activities such as work, family responsibilities, and socialising. These restrictions can lead to feelings of fatigue, low energy and mood, feeling out of control and anxious.
For gastroparesis sufferers it is common that as gastroparesis symptoms worsen, feelings of depression and anxiety increase. In turn, increased psychological distress can make gastroparesis symptoms worse – creating a vicious cycle. For more information on the relationship between gastrointestinal symptoms and psychological distress, see Brain-gut connection (Brain-Gut Axis).
Addressing feelings of depression and anxiety can help your mind and body to cope with gastroparesis. It is important to raise these feelings, or any previously unresolved psychological issues, with your doctor so that they can be considered in your treatment plan. If your doctor believes depression and/or anxiety are contributing to your symptoms, your doctor might suggest medication. Alternatively, you might receive a referral to a psychologist for further assessment or treatment.