What Are the Causes of Delayed Gastric Emptying?

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Delayed gastric emptying, also referred to as gastroparesis, is a disorder characterized by the stomach not emptying its contents fast enough. When the intestinal and stomach muscles are not working correctly and the vagus nerve is damaged, this condition occurs. Food then either stops or moves slowly through the patient’s digestive tract. So, what are the causes of delayed gastric emptying?

Eating Disorders

The eating disorders known as bulimia and anorexia nervosa may cause gastroparesis. Bulimia is an eating disorder characterized by binging on food and then abuses laxatives or vomits to prevent weight gain. Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by not being able to maintain a healthy weight. Patients may use excessive exercise, extreme dieting, or other methods to lose weight.


Diabetes is a medical condition that lasts throughout the patient’s life, otherwise known as a chronic disease. It is characterized by blood sugar levels being too high. There are different types of diabetes, and while they are generally the same, there are distinct differences. Diabetes may eventually damage the vagus nerve, resulting in gastroparesis. Causes may include pregnancy, viruses, genetics, autoimmune issues, heart disease, and having a close family member with this condition.


A variety of different medications may cause this disorder. These include:

  • Gastrointestinal agents
  • H2 receptor antagonists
  • Sucralfate
  • Aluminum hydroxide antacids
  • Proton pump inhibitors
  • Beta-adrenergic receptor agonists
  • Interferon alfa
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Levodopa
  • Anticholinergic medications
  • Opioid analgesics
  • Diphenhydramine
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease

This condition, also referred to as GERD, is characterized by the stomach contents backing up into the esophagus from the stomach. This may result in esophageal irritation, resulting in heartburn and other symptoms. If the sphincter muscle is not shutting properly, stomach contents may back up, and this is referred to as gastroesophageal reflux disease. A number of factors and other medical conditions may cause this condition, such as certain drugs and medications, hiatel hernia, smoking, obesity, and pregnancy.


When insufficient amounts of thyroid hormone are produced by the thyroid gland, it is referred to as hypothyroidism. This condition occurs when the cells of the gland are damaged due to thyroid gland inflammation. There are other possible causes as well, such as certain drugs and medications, congenital birth defects, radioactive iodine, viral thyroiditis, radiation treatments, and surgically removing a part of the thyroid or the entire thyroid.

Other Possible Causes

There are other causes of delayed gastric emptying. These include:

  • Metabolic disorders
  • Surgery on the vagus nerve or stomach
  • Smooth muscle disorders, such as scleroderma and amyloidosis
  • Viral infections
  • Nervous system diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and abdominal migraine


National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2007). Gastroparesis. Retrieved on January 28, 2011 from the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: https://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gastroparesis/

Fox, J. MD. And Foxx-Orenstein, A. DO FACG. (2011). Gastroparesis. Retrieved on January 28, 2011 from The American College of Gastroenterology: https://www.acg.gi.org/patients/gihealth/gastroparesis.asp