Anorexia & Gastroparesis 

Gastroparesis is common in people with feeding and eating disorders like anorexia. Studies show that about half of those presenting with gastroparesis symptoms also show signs of a feeding or eating disorder.

Gastroparesis means “stomach paralysis.” It is a condition that causes the stomach to empty much more slowly than normal. This can cause you to feel full after barely eating. It can also cause stomach bloating, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, greatly interfering with quality of life. 

Restrictive eating related to anorexia can cause gastroparesis. This can impact treatment and recovery for the eating disorder. Even if someone wants to eat more, it will be difficult to do so without managing gastroparesis.

What Is Gastroparesis?

As a disorder that slows down or stops the movement of food from your stomach to your small intestine, gastroparesis is also called delayed stomach emptying

With gastroparesis, your stomach muscles do not work as they should. They are not able to properly grind down the food you eat into small enough pieces to then push them through to your small intestine for further digestion. 

The food sits in the stomach longer and does not move through as quickly as it should. For example, after ingesting food, only about 10% should be left in the stomach after four hours. In someone with gastroparesis, as much as half can remain.

Gastroparesis can cause these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling full after eating very little
  • Abdominal pain
  • Inability to participate in normal activities due to stomach fullness

Does Anorexia Cause Gastroparesis?

A variety of issues and conditions can contribute to the onset of gastroparesis, which can include the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Gastric surgery
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Neurologic disorders
  • Some medications
  • Ischemia

People with eating disorders are at higher risk for gastroparesis. 

Anorexia can cause gastroparesis, as the stomach can struggle to digest food properly after being deprived of proper nutrients for a prolonged period of time. People with anorexia will restrict food and calories. Starvation can cause a range of digestive issues, including symptoms of gastroparesis. 

Anorexia can also make gastroparesis worse. People with a history of an eating disorder and gastroparesis can still have full stomach contents and uncomfortable feelings of fullness that interfere with daily life functioning for as long as four hours after eating as opposed to the more typical two hours.

What Are the Dangers of Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis can interfere with daily life functioning as it can make you feel overly full and sick. It can also interfere with your ability to eat even if you are trying to recover from anorexia. 

Some of the complications of gastroparesis can include the following:

  • Malnutrition and poor absorption of nutrients
  • Dehydration from repeated vomiting
  • Drastic weight loss
  • Difficulty regulating blood sugar (glucose) levels
  • Bezoars (partially digested food that collects in the stomach), which can lead to gastrointestinal tract blockages
  • Lower quality of life

Someone in recovery from anorexia may have a tougher time maintaining a healthy weight with gastroparesis. It can complicate treatment and lead to unintentional relapse. 

With gastroparesis, you can feel full without eating much. This can make it more difficult to put weight back on and maintain an appropriate weight for one’s age and height.

Is Gastroparesis Treatable?

Gastroparesis requires medical treatment. 

It will be treated based on its severity and the presence of additional disorders. For example, if diabetes is also involved, blood glucose levels will have to be managed and monitored more closely. 

Medications and surgical interventions can help to treat gastroparesis. It can also be helpful to do the following: 

  • Eat smaller, nutritious meals more often.
  • Prioritize foods that are low in fiber and fat.
  • Drink a lot of water.
  • Try soft foods that are well cooked.
  • Chew slowly and thoroughly.

How to Find Treatment for Anorexia 

When gastroparesis and anorexia co-occur, a specialized treatment program is necessary. Medical management of the conditions as well as behavioral therapies and counseling sessions will be necessary to achieve stability and support recovery. 

You can find anorexia treatment by checking with your primary care provider for referrals. You can also ask your insurance company for providers that are in-network for you, or contact the NEDA helpline for information and referrals.

Resources


  1. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder Symptoms are Frequent in Patients Presenting for Symptoms of Gastroparesis. (July 2020). Neurogastroenterology and Motility.
  2. Definition & Facts for Gastroparesis. (January 2018). National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
  3. Recognizing and Effectively Treating Gastroparesis. (December 2018). U.S. Pharmacist.https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/blog/new-dsm-5-binge-eating-disorder
  4. History of Eating Disorder in Patients with Gastroparesis Symptoms: More Severe Postprandial Fullness and Delayed Gastric Emptying. (October 2018). The American Journal of Gastroenterology.
  5. Contact the Helpline. (2022). National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Last Update | 10 - 31 - 2022

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