Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach contracts less often and less powerfully, causing food and liquids to stay in the stomach for a long time.

What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach contracts less often and less powerfully, causing food and liquids to stay in the stomach for a long time. Gastroparesis can be caused by viral infections, scar tissue, previous stomach surgery, some medications, neurologic problems, and endocrine problems including diabetes, adrenal problems, and thyroid disease. However, in as many as 60% of children with gastroparesis, the cause is not known.

Symptoms of Gastroparesis Can Include:

  • Feeling full after only a few bites

  • Bloating

  • Excessive burping or belching

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss due to inability to eat

  • Vague abdominal pain

Tests for Gastroparesis

After taking a careful history and doing a physical examination, your doctor will decide what tests will be most helpful to sort out what is wrong with your child. A number of different tests may be done when a child has any of the symptoms listed above. These can include an upper gastrointestinal series in which the child drinks barium that outlines the esophagus, stomach, and first part of the small intestine on an x-ray. An upper endoscopy may be done. In this test, a flexible tube called an endoscope allows your doctor to look at the lining of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first part of the small intestine). Often the most helpful test is a gastric emptying study which is a nuclear medicine x-ray test. The child eats food mixed with a small, very safe amount of a radioactive substance. This allows the radiologist (x-ray doctor) to figure out how quickly or slowly food leaves the stomach.

Treatment of Gastroparesis

If an underlying disease or problem is found that is causing the gastroparesis, this should be treated if at all possible. Changing the diet can be helpful. Fats normally cause the stomach to empty more slowly, so avoiding high fat foods can be helpful. High fiber foods, such as broccoli and cabbage, stay in the stomach longer, so these should also be avoided when symptoms are severe. Eating multiple small meals a day rather than three large meals may be useful. Liquids leave the stomach faster than solids, so liquids such as low fat milkshakes should be used.

In some cases, drugs are prescribed to try to help stomach emptying. If other approaches do not work, your child may need a feeding tube which allows nutrition to be delivered directly into the small intestine. In 2009, Nationwide Children's Hospital became one of only a few institutions in the United States to implant a pacemaker for the stomach to help children with severe stomach conditions. Learn more about gastric pacemaker treatment at Nationwide Children's.

Gastroparesis Support Groups

The gastroparesis section of Inspire! provides a listing of support groups and forums where people can connect with others who share their health concerns and find information and advice in groups sponsored by organizations.

Nationwide Children's First Gastric Pacemaker

A high school student named Emma struggled to digest food until doctors at Nationwide Children's inserted a pacemaker for her stomach. This pacemaker tells Emma's stomach that it needs to empty to help her avoid the bloating and nausea that she previously felt after eating.