How is gastroparesis related to diabetes?

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Gastroparesis (delayed gastric emptying) can make diabetes worse by making it more difficult to manage blood glucose. When food that has been delayed in the stomach finally enters the small intestine and is absorbed, blood glucose levels rise.

If food stays too long in the stomach, it can cause problems like bacterial overgrowth because the food has fermented. Also, the food can harden into solid masses called bezoars that may cause nausea, vomiting, and obstruction in the stomach. Bezoars can be dangerous if they block the passage of food into the small intestine.

Gastroparesis, a form of neuropathy (damage to the nervous system), interferes with the emptying of the stomach and leads to poor digestion. In people with diabetes, it's often caused by extended periods of high blood glucose. Food can get stuck in the stomach because the nerves aren't working right, so the food isn't passing into the intestines. The result may be digestive problems, such as heartburn, stomach pain, constipation and weight loss. If you have diabetes and problems with digestion, talk to your doctor about getting tested for gastroparesis.

Ms. Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Gastroparesis occurs when the nerves involved with digestion are damaged. Food stays in the stomach for a longer period of time rather than getting digested and moving into the intestines leading to problems such as heartburn, constipation, weight loss, etc. Gastroparesis can be caused by uncontrolled, high blood sugars over a prolonged period of time, and people with diabetes have higher blood sugar levels.

We generally divide gastroparesis into two main categories: gastroparesis related to diabetes and gastroparesis not related to diabetes. About 40 percent of cases are related to diabetes and the other 60 percent are idiopathic, meaning we don’t know the cause. Diabetic patients tend to have more vomiting and nausea, but less pain. About 80 percent of diabetics are going to do very well with a gastric pacemaker whereas idiopathic gastroparesis patients don’t do as well with a gastric stimulator (pacemaker).

Gastroparesis is a condition that reduces the ability of the stomach to empty its contents. In this video, Steven Edelman, MD, director of Taking Control of Your Diabetes, explains how the longer a person has diabetes, the more common it is.

Continue Learning about Diabetes Complications

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.