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Medically reviewed by Last updated on Sep 3, 2023.

What is gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition that causes food to move more slowly than normal from the stomach to the intestines. Gastroparesis is not caused by blockage. Often, the cause may not be known. It may be caused by damage to a nerve that controls muscles used to move food to your small intestines.

What puts me at risk for gastroparesis?

  • Diabetes for 10 years or more
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Gastric or antireflux surgery
  • GERD
  • Past viral infection
  • Medicines such as narcotics and some medicines used to treat diabetes
  • Conditions that affect your nervous system, such as Parkinson disease
  • Conditions that affect your connective tissue, such as scleroderma

What are the signs and symptoms of gastroparesis?

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Feeling full sooner than normal or after eating less than usual
  • Abdominal bloating and pain
  • Weight loss or poor nutrition
  • Frequent changes in blood sugar

How is gastroparesis diagnosed?

You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests will show your blood counts and electrolyte (mineral) levels.
  • Gastric emptying scintigraphy (GES) measures how quickly food moves through your stomach and into your intestine. A material is put into scrambled eggs and the eggs are eaten. Pictures of the material are taken as it travels through the stomach and into the small intestine.
  • A SmartPill test may be done to measure changes in pH and pressure in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. You will need to swallow a capsule that transmits radio waves and records the measurements.
  • A breath test is done by eating eggs with carbon in them. Breath samples are taken over a period of hours. The amount of carbon is measured in exhaled air. This shows how fast the stomach is emptying.
  • An endoscopy may be done to find problems in the esophagus or stomach. A small, thin tube with a camera and a light will be inserted into your esophagus and stomach.
  • An x-ray or CT scan may show problems in your stomach. You may be given contrast liquid to help your stomach show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid.

How is gastroparesis treated?

  • Medicines may be given to control your nausea and vomiting. You may receive medicines that help food move through your stomach at a more normal rate.
  • Nutrition support may be given as liquid supplements. You may need to see a dietitian for help with a nutrition plan.
  • Gastric electrical stimulation (GES) sends electrical pulses to the nerves in your stomach to help food move through to your intestines. It may also help control nausea and vomiting. GES is done when symptoms cannot be controlled with other treatments.
  • Surgery may be needed if other treatments do not work. You may need surgery to place a feeding tube through your skin and into your small intestine.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What else can I do to manage gastroparesis?

Your healthcare provider may suggest any of the following:

  • Change your eating habits. Take small bites of food to make it easier for your body to digest. You may need to eat several small meals low in fiber and fat throughout the day. Ask your dietitian for help with planning meals.
  • Do not eat raw fruits, vegetables, or whole grains. These can cause you to have undigested food in your stomach. The undigested food can form a blockage that can become life-threatening.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids will prevent dehydration caused by vomiting. Slowly drink small amounts of liquids at a time. Ask your healthcare provider how much liquid to drink each day, and which liquids are best for you. You may also need to drink an oral rehydration solution (ORS). An ORS has the right amounts of sugar, salt, and minerals in water to replace body fluids.
  • Do not lie down for 2 hours after your meals. Walking and sitting after meals help with digestion.
  • Control your blood sugar levels if you have diabetes. High blood sugar levels may make your symptoms worse. Ask your healthcare provider how to control your blood sugar levels.

You or someone else should call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your heart is beating faster and you are breathing faster than usual.
  • You cannot be woken up.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You are confused or have trouble thinking clearly.
  • You are dizzy or very drowsy.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You are urinating less than usual.
  • Your symptoms return or become worse.
  • The color of your urine is dark yellow.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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