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How to Treat Gastroparesis With Acupuncture and TCM

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By Qineng Tan, L.Ac., Ph.D. and Xiaomei Cai, L.Ac. Ph.D.

 

Stomach pain, nausea, and belching can be signs of gastroparesis.
Stomach pain, nausea, and belching can be signs of gastroparesis.

Bloated stomach, indigestion? Acid reflux, regurgitating food? Abdominal pain or nausea? These can be signs of gastroparesis, also known as stomach paralysis. Acupuncture and TCM can help relieve gastroparesis symptoms. 

What is gastroparesis? Gastric paralysis is a functional problem that occurs when the stomach muscles and the nerves that are connected to them aren’t activating normally. Weak stomach contractions lead to delayed emptying of the stomach into the small intestine.

Gastroparesis impacts your digestion, triggering uncomfortable symptoms, and limiting your ability to get proper nutrition and keep your blood sugar levels steady.

There are different types of gastroparesis.

  • Diabetes-related gastroparesis – a side effect of diabetes
  • Post-surgical gastroparesis – occurs after surgery, such as gallbladder or pancreas surgery, gastric bypass surgery, stomach surgery for ulcer, or hysterectomy
  • Idiopathic gastroparesis – occurs without a clear explanation

Most people experience idiopathic gastroparesis, which means that doctors cannot necessarily identify what causes gastroparesis in many cases.

Some medications can delay stomach emptying, including narcotic pain medications like codeine, morphine, or oxycodone. Medications that work on nerve signals, such as those used to treat overactive bladder, can delay gastric emptying.

Scleroderma, an autoimmune condition that affects collagen production and smooth muscle tissues, can lead to gastroparesis. Parkinson’s disease, which affects nerve signals, can lead to delayed emptying of the stomach. Hypothyroidism can also affect nutrition and digestion, as can eating disorders, metabolic disorders, and/or chronic fatigue.

Acupuncture is a good modality for helping to relieve gastroparesis symptoms, because it works on the nervous system, to help restore the proper signaling to muscles.

Rumination Syndrome

Gastroparesis is sometimes confused with “rumination syndrome.” Rumination syndrome refers to the regular regurgitation of undigested food. People with this syndrome often regurgitate undigested food back up shortly after a meal. This condition is usually related to the functioning of muscles of the diaphragm and unconscious behaviors around chewing and swallowing.

 

Gastroparesis Symptoms

Feeling full quickly when you eat can be a symptom of gastroparesis.
Feeling full quickly when you eat can be a symptom of gastroparesis.

The most common signs of gastroparesis are bloating, pain, nausea, and feeling full quickly when you eat.

Other symptoms of gastroparesis include:

  1. Feeling full quickly when eating
  2. Nausea, feeling nauseous after eating
  3. Vomiting, spitting up undigested food after eating
  4. Bloating, bloated stomach, abdominal bloating, abdominal cramping, stomach cramps
  5. Belching, burping
  6. Acid reflux, heartburn
  7. High blood sugar, low blood sugar
  8. Lack of appetite
  9. Weight loss
  10. Malnutrition

Gastroparesis needs to be addressed, as it can compromise your overall health by blocking you from getting proper nutrition from your food.

 

Gastroparesis Treatment

 

Medical treatment for gastroparesis will depend on which type a person seems to have. If a person has diabetes-related gastroparesis, for example, treatment will necessitate better management of blood sugar levels. 

Initial diagnosis usually involves imaging tests to see what is happening with the stomach and if there may be a blockage. Gastric motility tests help doctors see how your stomach muscles are working.

People will often be advised to change their dietary habits: possibly following a liquid diet for a period of time, or eating smaller meals throughout the day. You may be told to avoid fats and fiber, as these macronutrients can contribute to delayed stomach emptying.

In some cases, intravenous feeding or tube feeding may be necessary, if a person is severely undernourished due to gastroparesis.

Antiemetic medications may be prescribed to help with nausea and vomiting. Proton pump inhibitors may be recommended to help with acid reflux symptoms. 

There are some medications that can help promote better gastric emptying by stimulating more muscular contractions. Erythromycin and metoclopramide are two drugs used to treat gastroparesis. These medications can have side effects, like stomach cramps, nausea and constipation. They can also have negative interactions with other medications.

If these treatments are not helping, surgical options may be offered. A gastrostomy or may be inserted to help drain the stomach. A jejunostomy tube can be placed to bypass the stomach, so that nutrition gets into the intestines. A pyloroplasty is an operation in which the muscular valve of the stomach is widened.

Newer, experimental treatments involve placing electrodes on the stomach to help activate contractions. Botox injections have also been tried, as a way to calm spasms in the stomach.

Acupuncture treatment can help relieve gastroparesis symptoms without side effects or invasive procedures.

 

Can Acupuncture Help Gastroparesis?

 

Acupuncture can help relieve stomach pain and nausea due to gastroparesis.
Acupuncture can help relieve stomach pain and nausea due to gastroparesis.

According to TCM theory, gastroparesis can be caused by a deficiency of stomach and/or spleen Qi. Part of the TCM treatment protocol for gastroparesis might involve using herbs and certain foods to help warm and nourish the spleen. Acupuncture treatment can help improve muscular function, as well help to relieve stomach pain.

The motility of the gastrointestinal system is controlled by nerve and electric impulses. Acupuncture, and in particular, electro-acupuncture, can have a positive effect on stimulating electrical activity and restoring neural pathways within the body.

Acupuncture has been shown to be helpful for relieving many GI symptoms, like nausea and  bloating. This makes it a good treatment for many types of gastric disorders and stomach problems. 

In one study, three different groups of people were all given acupuncture treatment, with emphasis on different acupoints used for each group. All three groups of patients had significant improvement in their gastroparesis symptoms.

Specifically, testing with barium meal showed that acupuncture helped improve the speed of stomach emptying. Patients also reported positive changes in their feeling of fullness after a meal and experienced less bloating.

One case study of a woman in her 60s who had been suffering for two years with gastroparesis symptoms showed significant improvement of nausea, timely stomach emptying, and energy levels after just four acupuncture treatments. 

Another case study of a man in his 60s who presented with symptoms of fullness, stomach pain and distension, with delayed stomach emptying, ended with complete resolution of his symptoms after eleven acupuncture treatment sessions.

 

Acupuncture Near Me for Gastroparesis in Los Angeles

 

At Art of Wellness in West Los Angeles, Doctors Tan and Cai have over 35 years of experience helping people find relief from all kinds of gastrointestinal symptoms and stomach problems, including: IBS, stomach ulcer, colitis, Crohn’s disease, diverticulitis, nausea, diarrhea, and constipation. It’s worth trying acupuncture to see if it can help relieve gastroparesis symptoms for you.

 

*This article is for education from the perspective of Traditional Chinese Medicine only. The education provided by this article is not approved by FDA to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure human diseases. It should not stop you from consulting with your physician for your medical conditions. Traditional Chinese Medicine is based on Qi, which is an invisible force that usually cannot be observed by modern science. Because science focuses on testing ideas about the natural world with evidence obtained through observation, these aspects of acupuncture can’t be studied by science. Therefore acupuncture and Chinese herbs are often not supported by double-blind, randomized trials, and they are considered alternative medicine therapies in the United States.

 

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