Skip to content

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Diabetes, Gastroparesis, and Other Stomach Problems

Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) is a digestive problem that's associated with diabetes. Most often, gastroparesis occurs in people with type 1 diabetes; however, it can also occur in those with type 2 diabetes. Most have had diabetes for at least 10 years and have other complications of diabetes, as well. With gastroparesis, the stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion.

Causes of Gastroparesis in Diabetes

Gastroparesis is caused by damage to the vagus nerve, which regulates the digestive system and makes some muscles function. Diabetes is a leading cause of gastroparesis, accounting for about one-third of cases. Damage to the vagus nerve keeps the muscles of the stomach and intestine from functioning properly. In gastroparesis, food remains in your stomach because it is not processed and pumped through the intestines.

Other causes of gastroparesis include:

  • Viral infections
  • Abdominal surgery with injury to the vagus nerve
  • Medications such as narcotics and some antidepressants
  • Amyloidosis (deposits of protein fibers in tissues and organs) and scleroderma (a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin, blood vessels, skeletal muscles, and internal organs)


Symptoms of Gastroparesis in Diabetes

The symptoms of gastroparesis linked to diabetes include:

  • Heartburn or reflux (backup of stomach contents into the esophagus)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting undigested food
  • Poor control of blood sugar
  • Feeling full quickly when eating
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Poor appetite and weight loss


Complications of Gastroparesis in Diabetes

If you have diabetes and gastroparesis, you should be aware of the following complications:

  • Food that stays in the stomach for a long time can spoil, which can lead to the growth of bacteria.
  • Food in the 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 additional health problems for people who have diabetes. When food finally does leave the stomach and enters the small intestine, there is a rise in blood sugar levels. Gastroparesis can make it difficult for the person with diabetes to control his or her blood sugar levels consistently.
  • In severe cases, daily vomiting may occur.


Diagnosing Gastroparesis in Diabetes

If you have diabetes and your doctor suspects gastroparesis, he or she will review your symptoms and medical history with you. Your doctor will also perform a physical exam and may order certain blood tests, including blood sugar levels. Your doctor will want to make sure an obstruction is not the cause of your symptoms. Tests used to diagnose gastroparesis may include:

  • Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid (barium), which covers 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 radioisotope (a radioactive substance) in it, and then lie under a scanning machine 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: A thin tube that is passed through your mouth and into your stomach measures the stomach's electrical and muscular activity to determine how quickly it is digesting food.
  • Wireless motility capsule: This is given with a meal and measures the pressure, temperature and pH of different parts of the GI tract.
  • 13C breath testing: These tests are very accurate at measuring the speed of gastric emptying. 
  • Electrogastrography: This test measures electrical activity in the stomach using electrodes placed on the skin.
  • Ultrasound: This imaging test uses sound waves to create pictures of body organs. Your doctor may use ultrasound to eliminate other diseases.
  • Upper endoscopy: This procedure involves passing a thin tube (endoscope) through your esophagus to examine the lining of your stomach.
  • Biopsy of the stomach or small intestine: Thismay be needed to confirm the diagnosis.


Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

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.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
Woman serving fast food from window
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
are battery operated toothbrushes really better

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner
Are You at Risk for Dupuytrens Contracture