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Finding relief when the stomach slows down and you can't digest food

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Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Finding relief when the stomach slows down and you can't digest food
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Imagine not being able to finish a meal because you feel full all the time. That's what gastroparesis feels like.

MONTGOMERY TWP., N.J. (WPVI) -- Imagine not being able to finish a meal because you feel full all the time.

That's what gastroparesis feels like.

A "foodie" from Central New Jersey finally has relief from it, thanks to a boss who found Temple Health's Motility Center.

"I love entertaining and I love cooking. I love feeding people. That's my purpose, says Kamala Johnson, Montgomery Twp., N.J.

Johnson's love of food was tested 10 years ago.

She had bad acid reflux, but suddenly one weekend, she wasn''t able to keep food down at all.

"That whole weekend, I couldn't eat. Anything I put in, it just comes all back," she recalls.

Johnson underwent a host of tests, and saw several G-I specialists before learning she had gastroparesis.

Those specialists offered few answers or treatment. Finally, dogged research by her boss turned up Temple Health.

"You have a slow-emptying stomach, meaning the food sits in there longer than it should, and it takes longer to go out of your stomach into your intestines," is how Temple Health gastroenterologist Dr. Zubair Malik defines gastroparesis.

Dr. Malik says it's a rare condition, but happens more in people with diabetes.

Past reflux, bariatric, lung, or pancreatic surgeries also increase the chance, as do some rheumatologic diseases.

"Then some people just get it and we don't know why," says Dr. Malik.

Fellow gastroenterologist Dr.Rajiv Bhuta says damage to stomach nerves can slow the normal pumping and churning process, or restrict the muscle letting food into the intestines.

"So it becomes very difficult to digest food properly," notes Dr. Bhuta.

Doctors Bhuta and Malik say Temple offers a wide range of options for individualized treatment.

Diet and medications can help, as can Botox injections or stretching the muscle at the stomach base.

"And we can actually cut that muscle permanently from the inside. So there's no surgical incision. Everything's done with the camera scope," says Dr. Malik.

Kamala is grateful to her boss for finding Temple's Motility Center.

With diet changes and the medication,domperidone (Motilium), she's gone from 90 pounds, and being anemic, to a healthy weight and enjoying food and cooking again.

"I call it my miracle pill," says Kamala as she holds up the medication package.

Domperidone isn't yet FDA-approved in the U.S., though it is in Europe and other countries.

Dr. Bhuta acknowledges dealing with gastroparesis can be frustrating.

"It can feel like a very hopeless disease at times. And you know, you just, you gotta keep fighting and come to your doctor and keep working hard to get some kind of normal," he advises.

The doctors say there's one group of people who should be on alert for gastroparesis: those taking a popular new class of diabetes drugs which actually slows down the stomach.