Monday, 6 February 2012

When Even Liquids are a Struggle: Some Advice

Gastroparesis is a condition in which the muscles or nerves of the stomach don't work correctly so the stomach isn't able to empty effectively. Food stays in the stomach for hours longer than it should, causing nausea, bloating, fullness and pain, as well as vomiting.

Because the stomach doesn't empty properly, eating and drinking can be a battle to fight through all the symptoms. Failure to eat or drink enough can cause severe malnutrition and/or dehydration.

One of the easiest things to do when gastroparesis symptoms are severe is to stick to a liquid diet. Liquids empty from the stomach by gravity, so in theory they should cause fewer symptoms than solids. However, even liquids can cause symptoms, so here are a few tips as to how you can maximise nutrition when even liquids are a struggle.

  • Maximise your nutrition and hydration - make every morsel count. Now is not the time for diet drinks.
  • Take care of your teeth - chew sugar-free gum to hydrate your mouth and don't brush your teeth within 20 minutes of vomiting. Yes, this feels disgusting, but the acid in vomit softens the tooth enamel, and if you brush too soon, you'll remove precious enamel from your teeth. Rinse your mouth with water immediately, and then brush later.
  • Take your anti-emetics (anti-sickness drinks) on a regular schedule. If you can keep the nausea and vomiting at bay, you have a better chance of staying hydrated
  • If swallowing is a problem, or if you don't absorb tablets/capsules well, speak to your GP or pharmacist about alternative preparations. Many anti-sickness medications are available as tablets that dissolve in the mouth, or even as a patch that can be stuck on the skin. Other medications may be available as liquids or soluble tablets (or other forms), and capsules can sometimes be opened and the tiny beads inside can be swallowed with a spoon of yoghurt or apple sauce.
  • Get help for pain, whether it is in your mouth, throat, stomach, or somewhere else. Bonjela (a gel for teething pain or mouth ulcers) is available over the counter. Don't be afraid to speak to your GP or pharmacist about pain, especially if it's stopping you from eating or drinking. 
  • Painkillers are better at keeping pain at bay than they are at getting pain under control once it's really established itself. If you've been prescribed painkillers to take regularly, do take them regularly.
  • If you've been prescribed NSAIDs (e.g. Aspirin, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, Diclofenac) and find that they are upsetting your stomach, ask your GP or pharmacist if they can recommend an alternative, or if they really are the best medications for you, to prescribe other medication to protect your stomach while you're taking the NSAIDs.
  • Be careful of low blood sugars (hypoglycaemia). Symptoms of hypoglycaemia include anxiety, nausea, sweating, hunger, shakiness and weakness. If you find it difficult to spot the symptoms of low blood sugars before they get so low that you collapse in a heap, ask your GP about monitoring your own blood sugars at home, and make sure you get instructions about when you should check your sugars, how low is too low, and what you should do in this situation.
  • Taking a supplement of multivitamins/minerals can minimise some of the anxiety associated with not being able to eat. If you know that your micronutrient needs are being met, you can focus on getting hydration and calories. I recommend trying to find supplements in liquid or chewable form, as these are often better tolerated than capsules or tablets. Those designed for children can be more palatable. If you can't tolerate the whole dose, or can't tolerate it every day, don't give up. A little is better than nothing!
So what can you eat/drink?
  • Water is great, but if you're barely managing liquids, your body may need more than just water - try clear liquids, e.g. apple juice, cranberry juice, bouillon, sugary cordials. It's also possible to buy fortified juices, such as Fortijuice, which are clear liquids, but are fortified with extra nutrients and calories.
  • Dioralyte (or another rehydration solution) is brilliant if you can tolerate it, as it contains electrolytes and sugars to help replenish what you're losing, especially if you're vomiting or if you have diarrhoea.
  • Try setting a timer - every 15 minutes drink a teaspoon full of liquid. This seems like a tiny amount, but if you can tolerate it, you'll be getting 20 ml per hour, or 100 ml every five hours. It all adds up. If you can manage that, try increasing the frequency to every 10 minutes, or the volume to 2 tsp (10 ml).
  • Carry a bottle of juice around with you and take a sip every time you remember. 
  • Using a straw can make it easier to drink quantities, especially if you have a sore mouth.
  • Very plain salty crackers, e.g. saltines or water biscuits can help settle the stomach
  • Ice lollies (popsicles) are a great way to get those valuable liquids. They are available in minature forms for children, but if even these are too large, try making ice cubes from fruit juice or cordials.
  • Ginger is renowned for its anti-nausea properties. A delicious tea can be made from grated ginger, honey and hot water. Strain before drinking.
  • Boiled sweets (hard candy) are a good source of sugar. If you can suck these in addition to your liquid diet, they provide calories, flavour and a bit of variety from an entirely liquid diet. 
  • Get yourself some dextrose tablets to have on hand in case of low blood sugars - you can suck them or rub them against your gums. If you prefer, you can get sugary gel from your pharmacist that has the same effect (try Hypofit or Dextrogel).
If your fluid intake falls below about 200 ml per day for more than a few days, or you find that you're only able to wee once in every 24 hours (or even less), it's time to stop struggling at home, and get some medical help. Being very dehydrated is bad in lots of ways, but in particular can cause damage to your kidneys. It can also make nausea and vomiting worse. It might be time to get some IV fluids in hospital to top you up until the flare is over. If the flare goes on for a long time, it might be time to consider more long term options, which you can discuss with your doctor.
    Because gastroparesis is not very well recognised, there's not a lot of literature available. One author that I can wholeheartedly recommend is Crystal Saltrelli, who is a certified health counsellor in the US. She has gastroparesis, so is writing from personal, as well as professional, experience.

    Books: Living (well!) with Gastroparesis
                Eating for Gastroparesis: Guidelines, Tips & Recipes

    I'd love to hear from you about any other websites or books that you recommend, or any tips that you find helpful when eating and drinking are a struggle.

    1 comment:

    1. Hi Jo

      So glad to hear your voice - even though the text makes it obvious that you are facing very severe challenges. Your wit and pragmatic determination to live life fully are truly a gift, and an inspiration.

      You are in our prayers here, and more so when you are quiet. Blessings to you and Richard.