YOUR HEALTH: When your stomach won’t work

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DALLAS – According to the National Institutes of Health, as many as five million Americans may suffer from gastroparesis, a stomach paralysis that makes it very difficult to digest food.

It affects people with diabetes and Parkinson`s disease, and for one-third of the patients the cause is unknown.

Erica Davila has had stomach problems her whole life. She was misdiagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  The pain and nausea became so bad she had to leave her job as an operating room nurse.

It`s a horrible way to live," she said.  "I felt like I couldn't be myself and didn't have an interest in food."

Finally she met Doctor Terilyn Scott-Winful, who diagnosed gastroparesis, a rare condition caused by a nerve dysfunction, that results in stomach paralysis.  The most severe cases require a feeding tube, an option Erica and her doctor hoped to avoid.

"So with gastroparesis, you have delayed accommodation so food can't be distended and made room for, and then it's not being ground up and pushed out," said Dr. Scott-Winful, a gastroenterologist with Baylor Scott and White Health based in Dallas.

Medication and diet therapy didn't work, so a gastric stimulator, similar to a pacemaker for the heart, was inserted into Erica's stomach.  It sends an electrical impulse to jump start the stomach muscles.

"And it kind of gives the stomach a shock to try to get those nerves shocked to give the muscles the impulse to be able to move and to contract, to push food through the stomach," explained Dr. Scott-Winful.

"Life is far better now," said Erica.  "I'm able to eat more than I used to."

And practice martial arts with her husband Brian.

"Erica is a fighter for sure," added Dr. Scott-Winful.

And it's helping other, too.

Days of hospitalization were found to be reduced dramatically in gastroparetic patients treated with this therapy, from an average of 60 days per year to 17 days per year.  And the estimated cost savings was $65,000 per patient after using the stimulator implant in the first year.

TREATMENT: When the usual therapies do not work, a gastric stimulator should be considered. The device is approximately the size of a cardiac pacemaker and is implanted subcutaneously in the abdominal wall. The device delivers electrical stimuli to the stomach wall. Published reports indicate that this type of therapy leads to significant reductions in the frequency of nausea and vomiting.  Even with a gastric stimulator, a proper diet is still required for those with gastroparesis. Experts say avoid high fat foods, limit bulky, high fiber foods, and try to eat a soft diet with foods like soft-cooked vegetables and yogurt.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at



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