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Early Satiety

What Is Early Satiety?

Early satiety is a condition marked by feeling full after you have eaten a small amount of food, or before you finish a normal-sized meal. Several serious medical conditions can cause early satiety. These include as cancer, ulcers, and diabetes.

See a doctor if you have consistent feelings of fullness after eating a small amount of food.

How Does Digestion Work?

Digestion involves movement of the stomach, called peristalsis. During peristalsis, the stomach contracts and relaxes. The food then moves out of the stomach into the duodenum (first section of the small intestine) and through the small intestine.

Stomach acid, digestive enzymes, and peristalsis help you to digest the food you eat. Problems that interfere with peristalsis and stomach emptying can cause you to have early satiety.

Causes of Early Satiety

In general, any disorder that impairs the emptying of your stomach can cause you to feel full quickly. Scarring or compression of the duodenum slows the emptying of your stomach. Sometimes nerves that supply the stomach become diseased, causing your stomach to empty slowly.

Diseases such as diabetes can cause problems with the nervous system. Diabetes can also cause damage to the vagus nerve that regulates stomach movement. When the vagus nerve is injured, peristalsis can slow or stop, causing the stomach to empty very slowly. Impaired or absent stomach movement is called gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis is the most common cause of early satiety. People with gastroparesis have early satiety because food stays in their stomachs longer than it should. The cause of many cases of gastroparesis is unknown. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), diabetes is the most common known cause of gastroparesis (NIH, 2012). Parkinson’s disease, MS, and intestinal surgery can also cause gastroparesis.

Other conditions that can cause early satiety are:

  • stomach ulcer
  • GERD (gastroesophagel reflux disease)
  • cancer of the stomach, pancreas, gall bladder, liver, or ovary
  • gastric outlet obstruction (an obstruction that blocks food from entering the small intestine)
  • lymphoma
  • heartburn
  • constipation
  • depression
  • ascites (accumulation of fluid in the abdomen)
  • enlarged liver

Symptoms That Can Accompany Early Satiety

Early satiety, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, are the most common symptoms of gastroparesis. Other symptoms that can accompany early satiety are:

  • loss of appetite
  • difficulty swallowing
  • vomiting blood
  • black tarry stools
  • stomach pain
  • jaundice
  • involuntary weight loss
  • muscle wasting
  • bloating
  • fever and chills
  • fatigue

When to Call the Doctor

Early satiety is dangerous because it interferes with your daily intake of nutrients. When you eat less, you may not get enough calories and nutrients such as protein, carbohydrates, iron, B12, folic acid, and calcium. This can cause you to have problems like anemia and osteoporosis (weak bones).

Call your doctor if you have early satiety, even if you don’t have any other symptoms. When paired with early satiety, vomiting (with or without blood), black, tarry stools, abdominal pain, distention, chills, and fever, may be signs of a medical emergency.

Diagnosis of Early Satiety

Finding the cause of early satiety begins with a complete medical history and physical exam. In addition to CBC (complete blood count) and blood glucose tests, your doctor may also order the following:

  • upper gastrointestinal series (UGI): you drink barium, a substance that coats your stomach and small intestine so that they can be seen well on X-rays
  • abdominal ultrasound: uses sound waves to make pictures of the stomach, liver, pancreas, gall bladder and other organs
  • gastric emptying scintigraphy: you eat a small amount of radioactive material contained in a bland meal. Your doctor tracks the location of the material every hour for four hours
  • abdominal CAT scan: uses X-rays to visualize your abdominal organs

Treatment of Early Satiety

The treatment of early satiety depends upon the cause. Treatment of gastroparesis can include lifestyle changes and medication. Some of the lifestyle measures to relieve symptoms include:

  • eating six small meals per day
  • avoiding excess dietary fat and fiber, which slow down stomach emptying and can be hard to digest
  • consuming a liquid or pureed diet (in severe cases)

Your doctor may recommend a dietician to help you make diet changes and meet your daily nutrient needs.


  • Metoclopramide (Reglan): helps to increase gastric emptying and reduces nausea and vomiting
  • anti-emetics: a class of drugs that helps to control nausea and vomiting
  • Erythromycin: an antibiotic that in low doses can help to increase gastric emptying


Feeding tubes and total parenteral nutrition (TPN) keep you nourished when you cannot eat. A feeding tube is a thin, plastic tube that your doctor inserts into your nose and down to your stomach during a minor surgical procedure. The tube then carries liquid nutrition to your stomach.

Total parenteral nutrition is liquid nutrition that travels through a catheter placed inside a vein in your chest.

Long-Term Consequences of Nontreatment

Weight Loss

When you don’t eat enough calories for your daily activities, you will start to lose weight.

Muscle Loss

Inadequate protein intake causes your body to break down your muscles to meet its need for protein.

Impaired Brain and Organ Function

When you don’t eat enough carbohydrates, your body will not have the amount of glucose it needs to keep your brain and other organs functioning normally. Your body will then start to burn fat to meet its energy demands.

When your body breaks down fat for energy, it makes a byproduct called ketone bodies and causes a condition called ketosis.

Chronically low calorie and protein intake results in greatly impaired health, poor wound healing, malnutrition, and starvation. Long-term consequences for nontreatment vary with the cause of early satiety.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Verneda Lights and Valencia Higuera
Medically reviewed on: Aug 18, 2016: [Ljava.lang.Object;@2b61056e

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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