When LaKisha Williams discusses the challenge of managing chronic gastroparesis, she looks at each day as a journey.
“It is not easy. While I may be able to eat one minute, the next I may be nauseous or running to a bathroom. Any plans I make, I always have to consider my stomach,” she said. “While there have been a lot of changes, they overall have been for the better.”
Gastroparesis is a disease of the digestive tract where an individual experiences difficulty processing food moving from the stomach to the small intestine. For LaKisha, her symptoms of the illness began in 2018.
“It started as painful stomachaches, nausea, and vomiting. Eventually, it got to a point where I was frequently going to the hospital. I would feel better temporarily, but it would always return,” LaKisha said. “I couldn’t keep down liquids or solids, and my hospital stays kept getting longer. They couldn’t figure out at first what was causing the discomfort.”
LaKisha’s inability to eat and digest food got to a point where she lost nearly 100 pounds in six months, experiencing malnourishment and loss of muscle mass.
An upper endoscopy was done, where undigested food was discovered in LaKisha’s digestive tract. Following this finding, she underwent a four-hour gastric emptying study, where a patient eats radiolabeled food to observe how well the stomach is emptying. When the results came back abnormal, a diagnosis of gastroparesis was confirmed.
“The hospital described it to me like my stomach was partially paralyzed. I had never heard of a condition like that before,” LaKisha said. “I just prayed there was a way to make the pain stop. I was open to just about anything.”
Learning about and exploring therapies for treatment
LaKisha was referred to Brooks D. Cash, MD, a gastroenterologist with UT Physicians. Upon the first appointment, LaKisha learned more about her condition and options.
“At my appointment with Dr. Cash, I finally learned the details about my gastroparesis condition. He actually drew me a picture of what was happening to cause me pain and then explained suggestions for treatment,” LaKisha said. “No one prior had actually sat down with me to describe things. I had seen a lot of doctors before, but now I finally had some optimism for real change.”
Cash asked LaKisha questions about her condition, the symptoms she was experiencing, and how she had been advised to date to manage her discomfort.
“LaKisha was receptive and open to what I presented concerning options. From the outset, she demonstrated a willingness to be an integral part of her care,” said Cash, who is chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and the Dan and Lillie Sterling Professor in Clinical Gastroenterology with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. “She understood that even if there wasn’t an immediate cure for her condition, there were ways to live around it.”
Currently, LaKisha takes medication to manage her gastroparetic symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux, vomiting, and nausea. The prescription has made her condition more manageable.
Making necessary changes; avoiding pitfalls
In addition to daily medication, LaKisha also adheres to careful choices in her personal diet, based on recommendations and advice from Cash. She has at least one meal a day, and twice if possible.
“Adjustments to what I eat have been a priority. To put it plainly, I have to make sure it’s not anything that is going to turn my stomach upside down,” she said. “For protein, I generally stick to poultry. I have never really been a beef or pork person, but now I can’t eat that at all because it just doesn’t agree with me.”
LaKisha adds that she tries to enjoy light snacks and salads when possible, but avoids lettuce, broccoli, or high-fiber vegetables, which are difficult to process.
“LaKisha’s avoidance of fatty and roughage-based foods was a step in the right direction. These kinds of dietary modifications are essential to self-care for a gastrointestinal disorder,” Cash said.
Moving forward, LaKisha remains optimistic and continues her consultations with Cash.
“The rough days still occur from time to time, but lately there are more good ones than bad ones,” she said. “I am really grateful for the advice that Dr. Cash has provided to me.”
Likewise, Cash feels an important lesson should be taken from LaKisha’s case of chronic disease management.
“The outcomes of treating gastroparesis are not always perfect, and not the same for every individual. That said, it is a condition which can be treatable,” Cash said. “I give LaKisha a great deal of credit for her commitment and resilience. She’s as much her own doctor as I am.”