When Your Stomach Stops Working
What Is Gastroparesis?
Gastroparesis is described as "delayed stomach emptying." The Mayo Clinic explains it as such:
"Gastroparesis is a condition in which the spontaneous movement of the muscles (motility) in your stomach does not function normally."
Your vagus nerve is responsible for causing your stomach muscles to move. When it is damaged or stops working, your food remains in the stomach longer than it should. This causes the food in your stomach to spoil and ferment.
Historically, gastroparesis has proven to be difficult to diagnose. Unfortunately, young women suffering from this condition are sometimes misdiagnosed as anorexic—and they are wrongly sent to eating disorder clinics. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is another common misdiagnosis.
The most common causes of Gastroparesis are:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Stomach surgery with injury to the vagus nerve
- Narcotics and some antidepressants
- Parkinson's disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Rare conditions such as Amyloidosis (deposits of protein fibers in tissues and organs) and scleroderma (a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and internal organs)
- Idiopathic (relating to or denoting any disease or condition that arises spontaneously or for which the cause is unknown.) 
Symptoms of Gastroparesis
Most Common Symptoms of Gastroparesis
Early Satiety (Feeling full after eating just a few bites)
Changes in blood sugar levels
Lack of appetite
Weight loss and malnutrition
On October 31, 2009, I had an emergency surgery to remove my gallbladder. The next day, my grandfather (and hero) passed away. Three days later, I was on a flight to California to attend his memorial service. I decided to stay a week to comfort my mother.
About five days into my stay, I caught a nasty virus that was going around and was vomiting uncontrollably. I spent a day on a gurney in the ER hallway. They had no time to treat me with anything other than Zofran, which did not help. I went back to my mother's home, got some rest and headed home soon after. Thinking it was all behind me.
One month later, I started having stomach pain and a feeling of fullness after eating only a few bites of food. "I thought I would be feeling better after the surgery.", I told my doctor. He thought I might have re-injured an old ulcer, so he prescribed me some medicine. One week later, I called and asked him I should be feeling better because I wasn't.
This prompted my doctor to send me to a GI specialist, who after reviewing my upper endoscopy, diagnosed me with Gastritis. I was given a new medication and after a week, I gave her a call asking why I still wasn't feeling better.
My next medical exam was called a gastric emptying test. I ate radiated oatmeal and the tech reviewed how much time it took to leave my stomach. Two days later, my GI doctor called me with the news that I had Gastroparesis. She suggested I do much on-line research and prescribed me a medication called Reglan. My doctor also said I would have to stop taking the pain medications because narcotics make the condition worse. I asked her what I could do for the pain. She explained to me that nothing would help me and I would just have to deal.
Reglan turned out to be a black box prescription. It has been known to cause permanent neurological damage. Within five days, I was crawling out of my skin. After much research, I found another prescription drug that is not FDA-approved but could be obtained from Canada with a prescription. I called my doctor and asked for a prescription for Motilium.
The roasted root vegetable soup is one of my favorite recipes!
Research and Alternative Medicine
As my illness progressed, so did my fears. I could not eat any solid food without extreme pain. I found myself not only reading, but obsessing over my health. Some of the participant forums were frightening. I wasn't losing weight at this time, quite contrary, I was gaining. I was told that my body was in starvation mode.
I would ask the most common question in these groups, "Is this disease progressive?". The answer was, "Sometimes, yes. Not all cases are the same". G-Pact has a support group on Facebook and this became the most useful group to go to for information. Sometimes it could get depressing. We were all suffering. Occasionally we mourned the loss of someone due to complications.
A few things I gathered from the support group:
- There is at this time, NO cure for Gastroparesis.
- Women primarily suffer from this disease, though men do as well. Just not as many men as women.
- The women who usually die from complications seem to be very young.
- Some pregnant women lose all symptoms until their babies are born. Symptoms were known to return afterward.
- Some women say their symptoms are at their worse during their menstrual cycles.
- Some suffer daily, with no reprieve.
- Some suffer occasional flare-ups with no warnings.
- If you caught Gastroparesis from a virus, there is a strong chance that you will heal completely, it just takes 2-4 years.
The last two resonated with me greatly. My flare-ups, in the beginning, occurred every 3-4 weeks lasting 4-5 days. With each flare up, I would have to rebuild my appetite. By the time my appetite was almost back, another flare up would hit.
I had wondered if the surgeon had nicked my vagus nerve while removing my gallbladder. If so, I was screwed. But what I kept thinking about was that nasty virus I got while healing from my surgery. Could I have damaged my vagus nerve from the violence of that virus?
With all this information and fear, I found myself suffering panic attacks and depression. I am no stranger to either. I made an appointment with my primary doctor and he gave me some medicine as long as I committed to seeing a therapist. "You are starving and this is stressing you out. The stress is adding to the loss of appetite.", he said. I agreed.
In addition, I saw an acupuncturist and a naturopath. I had greater results from the naturopath. He treated some scar tissue in my stomach and almost immediately, the daily pain went away. Then he had me get some "constitutional hydrotherapy", which also provided some relief.
But whenever I experienced a flare-up, nothing could get me to eat. Sometimes the pain was unbearable, but mostly I just could not eat. I had to add a lot of sugar and cream to my coffees to get my calories, I discovered Enlive by Ensure, and Gatorade was my best friend. Still, there were many trips to the ER due to pain and dehydration.
My weight dropped from 165 lbs. to 117 lbs. in just six months. I decided to call off my engagement and moved out of the home I shared with my fiance. It turned out to be a good time for both of us to reflect on what we really wanted for ourselves.
It turns out, we decided we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together, in sickness and in health.
Yoga, Breathing, and Meditation for My Sanity
Being a recovering addict, working a 12-step program had totally prepared my mind and spirit for this. I constantly reminded myself "this too shall pass". I got outside of myself and gave of my time in service as much as physically possible.
I had also been seeing a chiropractor for a while and the best piece of advice he gave me was a breathing technique to use while the pain felt unbearable. It has been so long since I have had to use this technique, that I have almost forgotten how to do it!
Because of the lack of nutrients, I was getting, I had to quit my workout program. Even Yoga had become too difficult.
I attended a Women's retreat at The Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather, Co. This is where I learned how to journal properly, do walking meditations and Yin Yoga. Yin Yoga is a very slow paced Yoga where you hold your poses for 2-5 minutes rather than a flow.
Yin Yoga became my best outlet for the next couple of years, followed by meditation and breathing. In addition to daily prayer and a strong faith, my sanity remained intact due to this new part of my life.
This has been a crucial tool in getting me to the point of acceptance
The Outcome of My Journey
In October 2013, I had my final flare-up. I had been tracking my flare ups and for the past year, I had only two, but each one lasted 21-days. 21 miserable days. But the good thing was that they were so spread apart that I had time to gain my weight back.
It has been two years and I am still considered "In remission" until five years have passed. All I know is that I love food. For three years, I could not eat anything fibrous. Especially apples. I am now making up for all that.
Though I still wish I weren't as overweight, I would not trade a good meal for a small waist any day.
I will never stop praying for my dear brothers and sisters who still suffer from Gastroparesis. There are many who need a cure, who need prayers and good thoughts. If you have a prayer list, please add them to it.
Me, today at a healthy weight of 155 lbs!
Crystal Saltrelli is a wonderful resource for those who suffer from Gastroparesis
If You Think You Might Have Gastroparesis
- See a doctor and express your concerns.
- Ask for a gastric emptying scan.
- Have a good support group.
- Learn to breathe.
- Find out what foods you can tolerate and stay away from the foods you cannot.
- Do as much research as possible.
- Never give up!