What is Gastroparesis?

Jan 17, 2017 by

You can have me read this article to you instead of reading it yourself…

Or you can read it the old-fashioned way below…


I’d imagine most everyone reading this page at this exact moment in time has already read plenty of other descriptions on what gastroparesis is, how it works, what the symptoms are, and so on and so forth.

But I think that you’ll find that this one is a little bit different.  Consider this page the “Chelsey Take”.  Or, in other words: Brought to you from the mind of someone who has it, but also has to spend her days talking to doctors.

Here goes.

Understanding Motility

[Get the lowdown on the GI tract here.  There’s even a special illustration!]

Motility is a very important feature to the proper function of the GI tract.  When GI motility isn’t working the way that it is supposed to, the GI tract can start to go a bit haywire as it attempts to conduct its three main functions: digestion, absorption, and excretion.

Motility is dependent on something called peristalsis – the movement of the GI tract that pushes everything in the correct direction.  This occurs through a series of muscle contractions that happen in a certain sequence.  The sequence starts in the esophagus and moves all the way down to the large intestine.  Beyond simply pushing the food in the appropriate direction, peristalsis is responsible for the movement of the stomach as it churns up the food (mechanical digestion).  And finally, it helps our intestines to absorb nutrients more completely by moving the food along the wall of the intestine.

Defining Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is, very simply, a delay in the time that it takes for the contents of the stomach to empty into the intestine.  It usually indicates a disruption in gastric motility, or the peristalsis that we just discussed.

For each person, the extent of the disruption in motility may be different, the extent of the delay may be different, and the symptoms that these issues cause are also typically different.  But for the large majority of those with gastroparesis, the issues with motility are limited to portions of the upper GI tract, or specifically the esophagus and stomach.

Disruption of peristalsis could mean that there is no movement of the muscles, very limited movement of the muscles, or disordered movement of the muscles.  These all come together to have the very similar effect of delaying the movement of food through the GI tract.  Additionally, this disruption in peristalsis can occur in the esophagus, the stomach, or in both the esophagus and stomach.  The extent and severity of the disruption can each contribute to a different presentation of the condition and a different array of symptoms.

How Common is Gastroparesis?

It is currently very difficult to accurately state how many people have a gastroparesis diagnosis.  Recent attempts have estimated an incidence rate of 6.3 per 100,000 persons per year, or around 5 million people in the United States.  Another publication noted that the rate of hospitalization related to gastroparesis has increased in recent years, but it is unclear if this is because the rate of gastroparesis is increasing or simply because it is being diagnosed more accurately.

On a similar note, there has been some discussion regarding the amount of undiagnosed gastroparesis that is likely present, but efforts to evaluate how large this population might actually be are currently hypothetical.

Interested in more information on Gastroparesis?

Next: What Causes Gastroparesis?

Or refer back to the Gastroparesis Info Hub.


Trivia and Terminology:

Peristalsis is Greek for “to wrap around” and refers to the movement of the GI tract

Gastroparesis is Greek for “partial paralysis of the stomach”


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