What is Diabetic Gastroparesis?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Gastroparesis is a digestive condition that prevents the body from digesting food at a normal rate. Diabetic gastroparesis results when existing diabetic conditions cause damage to the vagus nerve, resulting in the intestinal condition. Although diabetic gastroparesis patients have many treatment options available, they are geared toward managing the condition rather than curing it. A patient with diabetic gastroparesis may have a difficult time both receiving adequate nutrition and controlling diabetic symptoms as a result of the condition.

People with diabetes are more likely to develop gastroparesis.
People with diabetes are more likely to develop gastroparesis.

Symptoms of gastroparesis include heartburn, nausea and vomiting, unexplained weight loss, and other stomach issues. The condition can be caused by many different factors, but is particularly likely to develop in diabetic patients. Both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes can result in abnormally high blood glucose levels, which can, over time, damage the nerves that aid normal digestion.

If diabetic gastroparesis is suspected, experts recommend consulting a doctor as soon as possible. To diagnose the condition, the doctor will often recommend several blood tests and more sensitive tests meant to narrow down the possible causes of unexplained stomach symptoms. Endoscopies, ultrasounds, and X-rays are all common types of test used to help determine a diagnosis of diabetic gastroparesis. Doctors may also perform one of several tests that require the patient to take a pill that contains radioactive isotopes or other substances that allow digestion time to be tracked.

Once diabetic gastroparesis is confirmed, several lifestyle changes may be recommended to help control the condition. One primary form of treatment and prevention is to eat five or six small meals throughout the day, rather than a few large meals. Smaller amounts of food may pass through the digestive system more quickly, preventing spikes in blood glucose or blood sugar that may aggravate diabetes. In severe cases, doctors may have to insert a feeding tube or inject nutrients directly into the bloodstream in order to prevent malnutrition.

To control the resulting spikes of blood glucose, doctors may prescribe insulin injections or increase dosage of an existing prescription. Maintaining stable blood glucose levels is key to managing diabetes, and gastroparesis will often wreak havoc by delaying digestion too long. Doctors may also recommend monitoring blood glucose levels after each meal to note any severe changes due to gastroparesis.

In addition to causing side effects related to diabetes, diabetic gastroparesis can also lead to severe stomach conditions that may require surgical correction. Food that sits undigested in the stomach will ferment and harden, sometimes becoming an unmovable mass called a bezoar. In severe cases, the bezoar must be removed by surgeons in order to allow normal digestive processes to resume.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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