Gastroparesis affects the way the stomach moves food into the intestines and causes bloating, nausea, and heartburn. When diabetes causes the condition, doctors call it diabetic gastroparesis.
What is diabetic gastroparesis?
Diabetic gastroparesis refers to cases of the digestive condition gastroparesis that causes diabetes. During normal digestion, the stomach contracts to help break down food and move it into the small intestine. Gastroparesis disrupts the stomach’s contraction, which can disrupt digestion. Diabetes can cause gastroparesis due to its effects on the nervous system.
Both type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes can cause nerve damage. One of the nerves that diabetes can damage is the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve controls the movement of food through the stomach.
When the vagus nerve is damaged, the muscles of the stomach and other parts of the digestive tract cannot function properly. When this happens, food cannot move as quickly through the digestive system. Gastroparesis is also known as delayed gastric emptying.
The signs and symptoms of gastroparesis vary in severity from one person to another and can include any combination of the following:
- Nausea and vomiting, particularly from undigested food.
- Feeling full after eating too little.
- Loss of appetite
- Involuntary weight loss
- Unstable blood sugar levels.
- Gastroesophageal reflux.
- Stomach spasms
Some people with diabetes are at higher risk of developing gastroparesis than people without diabetes. Risk factors for developing diabetic gastroparesis include:
- Have type 1 diabetes.
- Have type 2 diabetes for more than 10 years.
- Have coexisting autoimmune diseases.
- Having a history of certain gastric surgeries.
Gastroparesis is more common in women than men, and in people who have had surgery around the esophagus, stomach, or small intestine, as the surgery can affect the vagus nerve. People who have had certain cancer treatments, such as radiation therapy around the chest or stomach area, are also more likely to develop gastroparesis.
Gastroparesis makes it difficult for a person with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. Sometimes it can take a long time for the stomach of a person with gastroparesis to empty food into the intestine for absorption. Other times, the stomach can pass food very quickly.
This unpredictability makes it difficult for a person with diabetes to know when to take insulin, which means that their blood sugar levels can be too high or too low at times. When blood sugar levels are too high, the person with diabetes is at increased risk for the following:
- Kidney damage
- Damage to the eyes, such as retinopathy and cataracts.
- Heart disease.
- Foot complications that can lead to amputation.
When blood sugar levels drop too low, a person with diabetes can experience the following complications:
- Diabetic eat due to low blood sugar.
- Loss of consciousness.
Other complications of diabetic gastroparesis can include:
- Bacterial infections.
- Indigestible masses, known as bezoars, that can cause stomach obstruction.
- Electrolyte imbalance.
- Tears in the esophagus from chronic vomiting.
- Inflammation of the esophagus that can cause difficulty in swallowing.
If a doctor suspects that a person with diabetes has gastroparesis, they will usually order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis. Barium X-ray. A doctor may start with a barium X-ray to check for gastroparesis.