Delayed gastric emptying, also known as gastroparesis, is a motility disorder in which the stomach loses its ability to empty properly as a result of poor muscle function. The muscle contractions that normally move food along the digestive tract do not work properly and the stomach empties too slowly.
Possible causes of gastroparesis include diabetes, stomach surgery, viral infections, scleroderma and neurological disorders, including Parkinson's disease and spinal-cord disorders. However, in many cases no obvious cause for the gastroparesis is found and hypochlorhydria may be causing the delayed stomach emptying.
Before a diagnosis can be made, doctors first rule out an obstruction of the stomach by performing an endoscopic examination or an X-ray study of the upper digestive tract. If no obstruction is found, doctors conduct another test in which the patient eats food that contains radioactive markers. X-ray pictures are taken of the stomach over the next few hours to see how quickly the food moves through it. Newer, less invasive tests, are available.
Therapy for gastroparesis includes dietary and medical components. A liquid diet is often prescribed because the stomach can often process liquids better than solids. Doctors may also advise the patient to eat smaller, more frequent meals.
Approximately 50% of patients with chronic idiopathic nausea and vomiting evaluated in referral centers have gastroparesis. A viral etiology was suggested in these patients and in other series when there was an acute onset of nausea and vomiting with other features of a viral illness (fever, myalgia, diarrhea, fatigue, or abdominal cramping).