Gastrointestinal distress can be painful, embarrassing and disruptive. Fortunately, most GI conditions can be alleviated with the help of a gastroenterologist. Two GI disorders that can have similar symptoms are gastroparesis and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Here are some similarities and differences between the two disorders.
One common type of GI distress is gastroparesis, a form of digestive tract paralysis. Although few people have heard of gastroparesis, it affects one out of 25 Americans. This chronic condition is characterized by slow, irregular stomach contractions that interrupt or prevent normal digestion.
When digested food material does not pass into the small intestines within a normal timeframe due to gastroparesis, pain and abdominal bloating can result. Other symptoms of gastroparesis include heartburn, cramping, nausea and a persistent feeling of fullness. Because the condition is relatively unknown, gastroparesis can be mistaken for other types of GI disorders like GERD.
Similarities Between Gastroparesis and GERD
Many symptoms of gastroparesis mirror symptoms of GERD. Both disorders may be accompanied by abdominal pain, indigestion and a sensation of fullness, so they are easily confused for one another. It is equally important to receive prompt treatment for each of these disorders, as undiagnosed GERD can lead to Barrett’s esophagus and untreated gastroparesis can result in malnutrition and weight loss.
Differences Between Gastroparesis and GERD
GERD is chronic acid reflux caused by a weakness in the lower esophageal sphincter (LES), the valve the separates the esophagus and the stomach. Gastroparesis, in contrast, often develops after an injury to the vagus nerve, which is responsible for stimulating contractions in the stomach and intestines.
Unlike gastroparesis that develops due to stimulus interruption, GERD flare-ups often are determined by diet. Eating spicy, greasy, creamy or acidic foods or drinking caffeinated beverages, soda or alcohol can aggravate reflux. Lifestyle choices like overeating, wearing tight clothing or lying down after meals can also exacerbate the condition.
Patients with GERD usually experience upper GI pain because stomach acid leaks into the esophagus and causes inflammation. On the other hand, those with gastroparesis tend to have lower GI distress due to food moving slowly through the digestive tract.
Call a Gastroenterologist
Gastroparesis and GERD can cause long-term health problems if you are not under a doctor’s care. If you are experiencing gastric pain or GI distress, make an appointment with a board-certified gastroenterologist for a full exam and consultation.
And remember, August is Digestive Tract Paralysis Awareness Month, so take a moment to inform your friends and family about the condition and encourage them to prioritize their digestive wellness!