What You Need to Know About Diabetic Gastroparesis

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  • Diabetic gastroparesis is characterized by delayed digestive processing and gastric emptying because of high glucose levels
  • It’s also important to note that the risk of developing gastroparesis is higher for people who have had diabetes for more than 10 years

Diabetic gastroparesis is characterized by delayed digestive processing and gastric emptying because of high glucose levels.1 The prevalence of this condition continues to rise every year due to the growing number of people with diabetes mellitus.2

According to a report provided by a U.S. tertiary medical center, around 29 percent of gastroparesis patients have an underlying diabetes condition. A population-based survey also revealed that Type 1 diabetes patients are more likely to develop gastroparesis than those with Type 2 diabetes. In fact, the prevalence of gastroparesis in Type 1 diabetics ranges from 27 to 58 percent, which is significantly higher compared to 30 percent of Type 2 diabetics who experience delayed gastric emptying.3

It’s also important to note that the risk of developing gastroparesis is higher for people who have had diabetes for more than 10 years.4

How Does Glucose Damage the Vagus Nerve?

It’s no secret that diabetes may damage various parts of the body over time if not properly treated. However, not many people know that this condition may also hinder the digestive system from doing its job of processing food and absorbing nutrients. This complication is actually a form of diabetic neuropathy,5 and occurs when glucose impairs or destroys the vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve supports a number of sensory and motor functions, and one of its many roles is to control the contraction of the stomach. Just like other nerves, it also depends on tiny blood vessels (also called capillaries) for nourishment.6

However, an excess amount of glucose in the body may eventually damage these blood vessels and cause the vagus nerve to fail. Once this happens, the movement of food inside the digestive tract will be slowed or stopped, as the stomach loses its ability to contract and digest its contents.7

Gastroparesis Makes It Harder to Manage Diabetes

People with gastroparesis may find it difficult to manage their glucose levels since they can’t predict when their stomach will digest food. For instance, diabetics who need to administer insulin before a meal may end up with hypoglycemia if the insulin takes effect before the food is digested. They may also experience hyperglycemia if the stomach digests food after the insulin has finished working.8

Due to the unpredictable flare-up of diabetic gastroparesis, patients diagnosed with this condition are required to constantly monitor their blood sugar level. Some prefer to check their glucose after meals to determine whether the timing or dosage of insulin needs to be adjusted, while others resort to using additional oral diabetes medicines.

Before making any changes to the prescribed insulin dosage and schedule of administration, patients must consult a physician to properly determine how much insulin they need and exactly when to take it.9

The diet plan for diabetic gastroparesis is also more complex since patients need to consider not just their glucose level, but also their ability to digest foods. A dietitian can help decide the appropriate dietary modification. In most cases, patients are recommended to eat small meals a few times per day. For severe diabetic gastroparesis, homogenized meals may be prescribed, along with supplementation of certain vitamins and minerals.10

MORE ABOUT GASTROPARESIS

Gastroparesis: Introduction

What Is Gastroparesis?

Diabetic Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis Symptoms

Gastroparesis Causes

Gastroparesis Treatment

Gastroparesis Prevention

Gastroparesis Diet

Gastroparesis FAQ

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