Diabetic Gastroparesis: What You Should Know

November is American Diabetes Month so we’re taking this opportunity to spread awareness about Gastroparesis (also called delayed gastric emptying) which effects individuals with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

What is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is a type of nerve damage that happens in the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls the muscles involved in the movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine.  When this nerve is damaged, your stomach muscles are not able to move properly thus causing a delay in food leaving the stomach.  While there are a few other causes of gastroparesis, diabetes is the most common cause.

Individuals with diabetes who undergo long periods of high blood glucose levels can cause damage to this nerve and thus develop Gastroparesis.  Food that stays in the stomach too long can cause bacterial overgrowth or bezoars. Bezoars are solid masses of hardened food that can cause nausea, vomiting and obstruction.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting of undigested food
  • Early feeling of fullness when eating
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Erratic blood glucose (sugar) levels
  • Lack of appetite
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Spasms of the stomach wall

Prevention

If you have diabetes (type 1 or 2), the best way to prevent gastroparesis is to effectively manage your blood glucose levels through diet, insulin or medication.  Improving your diet is always the best way to prevent or manage most gastrointestinal disorders or problems.

Coping through diet

While there are some medical treatments to help cope with gastroparesis, changing your diet can be extremely helpful.  Eating 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large meals will reduce the amount of food that goes into your stomach at one time and give your stomach more room and time to digest.  You should also avoid high-fat and high-fiber foods. Fat slows digestion and fiber is hard to digest.

If you suspect you have Gastroparesis or are having problems managing it, schedule an appointment with your gastroenterologist for a treatment plan and customized diet.

Further Reading:

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House

American Diabetes Association