How does anorexia lead to a paralyzed stomach?
People suffering from gastroparesis anorexia severely limit food intake, resulting in:
- Increasing weight loss
- Effects on the skin, hair, and nails
- Muscle weakness
- Dizziness or fainting
Just as the visible muscles lose strength and the body weakens, internal muscles are affected in the same way. Because of the severely restricted food intake, the muscles in the digestive system are not used as often.
These internal muscles begin to atrophy or lose tone and strength. Just as someone’s legs would atrophy if they aren’t used, the stomach muscles do the same. Eventually, gastroparesis develops – the process of emptying the stomach slows or even stops altogether2
How is gastroparesis diagnosed?
Gastroparesis is diagnosed via several tests, depending on symptoms, or to rule out other similar conditions.
There are two types of gastric emptying tests, which determine how fast your stomach empties its contents.3
Physical effects of gastroparesis
Symptoms of decreased digestive movement from gastroparesis may include any of the following:1,2,4
- Early fullness, soon after beginning a meal
- Feeling full too long after a meal (due to delayed gastric emptying)
- Nausea and vomiting
- Distended and bloated stomach
- Upper abdominal pain
- Acid reflux (gastroesophageal reflux disease) and heartburn
- Poor appetite and early satiety
- Delayed bowel movements
These effects are concerning for the treatment of gastroparesis anorexia. As a person suffering from this eating disorder is learning to regulate food intake and listen to body cues about hunger, gastroparesis can alter the normal response. This can cause problems in treatment due to feelings of over-fullness and a lack of desire to eat.
Issues with medications and stomach paralysis
To complicate the matter even further, certain medications can make gastroparesis symptoms worse:4
- Narcotic pain medications such as codeine, hydrocodone, morphine, oxycodone, and tapentadol
- Antidepressants such as amitriptyline, nortriptyline, and venlafaxine
- Some anticholinergics used to treat overactive bladder
It is important that a person dealing with anorexia (even if in recovery) and simultaneously diagnosed with gastroparesis seek professional treatment from someone familiar with both conditions.4
Treating eating disorders + gastroparesis
The most effective way to treat gastroparesis is to start early. However, this is complicated further by restrictive eating behaviors and distorted body image in people with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. Typically the first symptoms of gastroparesis are nausea, vomiting, and early fullness. All of these may be symptoms that people dealing with anorexia may combat on a daily basis. For individuals undergoing treatment for their eating disorder, it is important that symptoms be recorded and any changes thoroughly examined.
The best treatment for gastroparesis is the prevention and treatment of any underlying conditions or behaviors that may be contributing to it.
Types of treatments used
After gastroparesis has progressed, there are a few treatment options that can help:3
- Dietary modification: Eating several small meals daily to reduce symptoms of over-fullness and promote nutritional intake. Drinking fluids between meals and not with meals. Eat soft and easily digestible foods, chewing thoroughly. Avoid carbonated beverages.
- Medications: Metoclopramide is the most used, while some others are used off-label and are currently undergoing FDA evaluation. This drug promotes gastric movement and emptying. Other medications are those commonly used for nausea and vomiting.
- Gastric electrical stimulation: Uses an implanted device to provide nerve stimulation and promote gastric emptying.
- Nutritional supplementation: Some patients with advanced gastroparesis find that supplementation through a feeding tube in the stomach or small intestine or total parenteral nutrition (TPN) is needed to maintain weight and hydration. This is typically a later-stage treatment after other plans have failed to work.
Although there is no “cure” for gastroparesis, research is ongoing to develop more treatment options. Individuals with anorexia nervosa, or a history of it, should be aware of the symptoms and seek treatment from a qualified gastroenterologist. Early treatment is always the best.