4 Strategies That Ease My Gastroparesis Symptoms
Date night with my husband resulted in mounds of clothing piling up on the bench in my closet. I was having a meltdown similar to that of a teenage girl with a zit on prom night. Nothing fit. I couldn’t zip up skirts or button pants. My stomach had suddenly protruded out like I was seven months pregnant.
This was my first symptom of gastroparesis, a fancy word that simply means the stomach muscles are paralyzed and cannot empty food normally.
The doctors initially called it bloating. Ha! Bloating? No, sir! Bloating is when you’ve eaten a large meal or are retaining extra water. This was an alien baby that would grow inside my belly immediately after eating or drinking anything.
I had to keep two wardrobes to deal with my damaged stomach and its delayed emptying. I had my morning attire for when my waist was normal. My second set was reserved for my “bloated” stomach that would swell two full sizes later in the day.
As scleroderma progresses, so does the damage to my gastrointestinal tract, including the development of gastroparesis. Without any treatments for my severe diagnosis, I’ve had to come up with personal remedies. Ultimately, it boils down to listening to my body when it’s screaming at me.
1. Chew, chew, chew
The smaller the food particles, the easier it is for solids to move through the digestive system. A healthy gut could use that extra work, but a broken one can’t process anything very well. Although doctors tell me to avoid them, I still enjoy things like raw veggies. Because they are high in fiber, I carefully pulverize every morsel before swallowing. Think puréed baby food. When I baby my tummy, she’s happy with me. It takes practice, but taking smaller bites and chewing thoroughly ease many of my symptoms.
2. Only tiny amounts at a time
It helps me to think of my stomach as a finicky toilet with bad plumbing — you know, the kind that backs up and requires an embarrassing session with the plunger. The more I put in, the more likely it is to back up.
Doctors gave me a tip to help get food down my esophagus: Add water before swallowing every bite. There are three reasons I stopped doing this: I found it nasty to water down my food, I would get too full before I could eat enough to be nourished, and too much liquid with food guarantees severe bouts of reflux and/or vomiting.
I find it more helpful to limit the amount I drink with meals and to stop eating before I’m full. Since I have no muscle in my throat, I sometimes need water to get food all the way down. So, I save those sips. As for the amount I eat in one session, think of that toilet and plunger — small amounts flush down easier!
3. Choose your food wisely
For many years, I spent countless hours rocking back and forth in the bathroom, shaking with cold sweats and cramps comparable to appendicitis (been there, done that). I listened to the doctors and followed the gastroparesis diet. I also had allergy and sensitivity testing done. While doctors said I’m mildly sensitive to everything (my husband would agree), they also told me I shouldn’t have adverse reactions to any of the foods in the recommended diet.
I’d had enough, so I started an elimination diet and kept a journal. I began with plain, boiled potatoes and slowly added new foods. I diligently recorded every food I ate and symptom I experienced. It took close to a month, but I figured out which foods caused me the most suffering. Dairy and oil are my enemies.
4. Stand up and stretch
To get the food to enter my stomach, I sometimes have to arch my back while eating. I can feel it lodged in there until I release it with a slight backbend. The only downside is the inevitable garbled burp that comes up at the same time. It’s the sound of the drain being unclogged.
Gravity and exercise are also my best friends now. Together, these two blessings help my broken stomach move food into my intestines. If I sit down right after a meal, the digestive process is paused completely. The longer it sits, the more bloated and nauseous I become.
I can’t even think about lying down before everything clears out of my tummy. Unless I want to once again taste everything I worked so hard to get down, I have to stay upright for at least five hours after every meal.
It’s not easy living with gastroparesis. Listen to your body and find ways to ease your suffering. A food diary can be very helpful. While the disease can’t be cured, you can still find ways to improve your quality of life.
Note: Scleroderma News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Scleroderma News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to scleroderma.