Gastroparesis and Diabetes: What You Need to Know

Gastroparesis is an uncomfortable, and sometimes painful disorder that is incredibly common amongst people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. It’s so common, in fact, that up to 50% of people with diabetes will develop gastroparesis. However, despite its frequency, a lot of people remain in the dark when it comes to what the condition actually is. So, we’re here to help clear some things up.

Before we dive into the symptoms, potential complications, and what you can do to treat it, let’s take a look at what gastroparesis actually is.

businessman with indigestion or stomach pain

What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a condition that prevents your stomach from properly moving food through the digestive track, causing delayed gastric emptying. Why does this happen? Typically, a damaged vagus nerve, which is responsible for controlling the process.

This is particularly common in patients with diabetes because the vagus nerve, like other nerves in the body, can be damaged by diabetic neuropathy. Meaning, if an individual’s blood sugar levels remain uncontrolled for long periods of time and neuropathy develops, this is just one of the many systems that can be affected.

What Are the Symptoms of Gastroparesis?

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite or reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Heartburn
  • Constipation alternating with diarrhea
  • Reflux
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty controlling blood glucose levels/erratic levels
  • Stomach spasms

What Are the Potential Complications of Gastroparesis?

When food sits in an individual’s stomach for too long, it begins to spoil, and individuals risk the development of bacterial infections. Further, when food fails to leave the stomach, it can harden and form a mass called a bezoar, which can create a blockage.

Because nutrients are not being properly absorbed by the body, individuals with gastroparesis can also suffer from malnutrition. This is worsened by the nausea and vomiting that are symptomatic of the condition. Vomiting can also lead to severe dehydration, a dangerous side effect for anyone, but particularly harmful if you suffer from diabetes.

Interrupting the digestive process can also create erratic blood glucose levels, making diabetes even more difficult to manage.

How Is Gastroparesis Diagnosed?

A gastroparesis diagnosis involves visiting your physician. They will likely need information about your medical history, and blood tests will probably be ordered. Once a gastrointestinal issue has been established, they may use a smart pill, or perform a gastric manometry, an electrogastrography, a barium X-ray or a biopsy to get more information.

Being prepared with details about your symptoms, diet, and diabetes management routine can help your physician with a diagnosis and evaluation of your condition.

Palpation of the abdomen

How Is Gastroparesis Treated?

Because gastroparesis is chronic, treatment is typically aimed at long-term management and control of the condition rather than a cure. Medications are commonly prescribed to help stimulate muscle contraction in the stomach. Patients are also frequently given medication to help prevent nausea and vomiting.

Blood glucose management can also help reduce symptoms of, and complications from, gastroparesis. This might include taking more insulin, altering when you take it, and increasing the frequency you check your blood glucose levels. Additionally, your medications may be switched, as some worsen the symptoms of gastroparesis.

Being asked to change your diet is also common. In addition to avoiding foods high in fat and fiber, your doctor may ask you to alter the way you eat. He or she may recommend:

  • Eating more small meals rather than three large meals
  • Slowing down- take longer to eat each meal
  • Going for walks after you eat
  • Avoiding lying down for two hours after you eat
  • Avoiding carbonated beverages when eating
  • Chewing food more thoroughly

Gastric electrical stimulation might be recommended to patients who do not respond to dietary changes. This treatment involves the surgical implantation of a device that sends out small pulses to the stomach’s muscles to help manage nausea and vomiting.

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