The process of digestion is carried out through a number of organs in your digestive tract. The first stop is your stomach, which normally propels food into the small intestine to be digested. Sometimes your digestion will slow drastically or stop with food still left, undigested, in your stomach. This medical condition is called gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying. Symptoms of gastroparesis include nausea and vomiting, feeling full after eating a small portion of food, acid reflux, stomach pain and unintended weight loss. The causes of this stoppage of digestion are many.
Nerve and Muscle Damage
When food enters your stomach, the vagus nerve tells the stomach muscles to contract so the food can continue its journey through the digestive system. The vagus nerve is the nerve that controls the muscles in your stomach. Due to injury, congenital conditions, a nervous system disorder such as Parkinson’s disease, surgery or a variety of other conditions, your stomach muscles or vagus nerve can become damaged. Nerve and muscle damage in the digestive tract can mean your organs are not able to fulfill their jobs, and digestion may stop or slow down before food has left the stomach. Your doctor may prescribe a number of different medications to stimulate your stomach muscles to contract, to aid digestion.
Medications that you may be taking to treat unrelated medical conditions can lead to gastroparesis. Antidepressants, lithium, narcotic pain medications, the hormone progesterone and nicotine are a few examples of drugs and chemicals that may interfere with gastric emptying. Be sure your medical care provider has a complete list of medications and supplements you take, especially if you suffer from digestive complaints.
The science of endocrinology relates to the endocrine system and the hormones your body secretes and stores. Endocrine disorders, including diabetes and hypothyroidism, can also contribute to gastroparesis. You are more likely to suffer from digestion problems of this nature if your blood sugar levels are not well controlled; high blood glucose levels can impair the functioning of the vagus nerve, which leads to missed signaling between the nerve and the stomach muscles. Low levels of thyroid hormones may also interfere with the normal digestive process.
Other Health Conditions
A variety of other health conditions can cause your digestion to stop while food remains undigested. Viral illness and gastroesophageal reflux disease — GERD — are two conditions that can cause symptoms of gastroparesis. Suffering from an eating disorder, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can also throw off your digestion. Treatment for eating disorders usually reverses delayed gastric emptying over time.