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When Diabetes Causes Stomach Problems

If you have gastroparesis, food stays in your stomach longer than normal. It makes you feel queasy and vomit. It's also bad for your blood sugar levels.

Although it's more common in people with type 1 diabetes, people with type 2 diabetes can get it, too.

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Most people with gastroparesis have had diabetes for at least 10 years and also have other diabetes complications.


Gastroparesis happens when the vagus nerve, which keeps the muscles of the stomach and intestine working properly, is damaged. Diabetes, which can harm your nerves, is a leading cause of gastroparesis.


You may have:

  • Heartburn or reflux (backup of stomach contents into the esophagus)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting (in severe cases, this may happen daily)
  • Trouble controlling blood sugar
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Poor appetite and weight loss


Food that stays in the stomach for a long time can spoil, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.

Undigested food in your stomach can harden into a lump called a bezoar. Bezoars can cause blockages in the stomach that keep food from moving into the small intestine.

Gastroparesis can cause more health problems for people who have diabetes. When food finally does leave the stomach and enters the small intestine, your blood sugar levels rise. Gastroparesis can make it hard to control blood sugar levels.

Vomiting can also leave you dehydrated.


Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. He will also do a physical exam and may order a blood test to check your blood sugar levels. He may also order some of these other tests:

  • Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid (barium), which coats your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine and shows up on X-rays. This test is also known as an upper GI (gastrointestinal) series or a barium swallow.
  • Barium beefsteak meal: You eat a meal with barium in it, and the doctor uses an X-ray to watch how your stomach digests the meal. The rate of digestion will tell your doctor how quickly your stomach is emptying.
  • Radioisotope gastric-emptying scan: You eat food that has a radioactive substance in it called a radioisotope, and then lie under a scanner that detects the radiation. If the scan shows that more than half of the food is still in your stomach after 1.5 hours, you have gastroparesis.
  • Gastric manometry: Your doctor guides a thin tube through your mouth and into your stomach. It measures your stomach's electrical and muscular activity to find out how quickly it is digesting food.
  • Wireless motility capsule: You swallow this tiny device with a meal. It measures the pressure, temperature, and pH of different parts of your gut.
  • C13 breath testing: These tests are very accurate at measuring the speed of stomach emptying. 
  • Electrogastrography: During this test, you wear electrodes on your skin to measure electrical activity in your stomach.
  • Ultrasound: The doctor uses sound waves to show the inside of your body. 
  • Upper endoscopy: Your doctor will pass a thin tube (called an endoscope) through your esophagus to view the lining of your stomach.
  • Biopsy of the stomach or small intestine: Your doctor may need to take a small sample of tissue from your stomach or small intestine to confirm the diagnosis.

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If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

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