Dumping Syndrome: Is It Curable?

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on November 23, 2023
6 min read

Dumping syndrome is a cluster of symptoms you may have when your stomach moves food into your small intestine faster than it should. For this reason, it's also sometimes called rapid gastric emptying. When food moves through your stomach too fast, your intestine gets a large amount of poorly digested food. This causes symptoms such as nausea, belly cramps, bloating, and diarrhea. It may also cause fast changes in your blood sugar. 

Dumping syndrome is usually caused by changes to your stomach after surgery. For instance, dumping syndrome is common after gastric bypass surgery, in which part of your stomach is removed. The good news is that the symptoms usually go away with time. Although you may find dumping syndrome alarming at first, it is not life-threatening. You can control it by making changes in what and how you eat. 

Digestion starts in your stomach. Once your stomach has the ball rolling, it pushes the partly digested food into your small intestine in batches. Doctors call this process "gastric motility." Your gastric motility is affected by many parts of your digestive system, such as your muscles, nerves, and hormone signals. If any of these parts of your digestive system are out of balance, it throws off your ability to digest.

Surgery to remove all or part of your stomach, such as gastric sleeve surgery or gastric bypass surgery, is the most common cause of dumping syndrome. About 20%-50% of people who have had surgery on their stomach will get some symptoms of dumping syndrome. Some people may also have it with gastrointestinal diseases, like diabetes or an ulcer.

Eating certain foods makes dumping syndrome more likely. For example, refined sugars in your stomach can absorb water fast, which causes symptoms. Symptoms may also be more common after you eat dairy products and certain fats or fried foods.

Dumping syndrome has two phases with their own set of symptoms. You may have one or both.

Early phase

Symptoms of an early phase happen because food is rapidly "dumping" into the small intestine. Early-phase symptoms may be due to things like:

  • Your small intestine stretches because it pulls water in from your blood to help digest your food, which causes cramping, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • Your small intestine releases hormones into your bloodstream, which may cause changes in your blood pressure and heart rate.

Late phase

The symptoms of late phase may happen due to a fast rise and fall in blood sugar levels. Doctors aren't sure why this happens, but they think it may be because a lot of sugar gets dumped into your blood all at once when you eat a lot of carbohydrates, causing your insulin levels to change fast.

If you have not already been diagnosed with dumping syndrome, and you have confusion, dizziness, a rapid heartbeat, or fainting, get medical help. Call 911 right away.

Symptoms of early-phasedumping syndrome usually happen about 10-30 minutes after you finish eating and may include:

  • A feeling of fullness or bloating, even after eating just a small amount
  • Belly cramping or pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushing or light-headedness
  • A fast heartbeat

Symptoms of late-phase dumping syndrome usually happen about 1-3 hours after a meal, especially if you ate a lot of carbohydrates, and may include:

  • Fatigue or weakness
  • Flushing 
  • Cold sweats
  • Shakiness, dizziness
  • Loss of concentration or mental confusion (brain fog)
  • Feelings of hunger
  • A rapid heartbeat

If you had gastric surgery in the past, even if it was years ago, your doctor may be able to diagnose you by asking about your medical history and symptoms. They may give you a questionnaire called the Dumping Symptom Rating Scale to help them decide if you have dumping syndrome. 

They may also want to run tests to make sure dumping syndrome is what's causing your symptoms, especially if you have never had gastric surgery. Some tests your doctor may order include:

An oral glucose tolerance test. This measures your blood sugar before and after you drink a glucose solution. If your blood sugar drops 1-3 hours after you eat, this likely means you have late-phase dumping. The doctor may also test your red blood cell count (hematocrit) at the same time. If your hematocrit level goes up after you drink glucose, it suggests that large amounts of water are moving out of your bloodstream and into your intestines.

A gastric emptying test. This measures how quickly food moves through your stomach. You'll get a meal with a very small amount of radioactive material in it so that a technician can watch on a scanner as the food moves through your stomach.

A hydrogen breath test. This measures hydrogen levels in your breath after you drink a glucose solution. If you have hydrogen in your breath, it shows that glucose isn't being absorbed in your small intestine well.

An upper endoscopy. An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a lighted camera attached. With an endoscope, your doctor can look at the inside of your stomach, esophagus, and the connection between them to see if you have any structural problems that are causing your symptoms.

An upper gastrointestinal (GI) series. In this test, you'll drink a solution with a contrast agent in it. This contrast agent helps the technician see your esophagus and stomach on a video X-ray machine (fluoroscope). The technician will watch on the fluoroscope as the contrast solution travels through your stomach and into your small intestine.

You may be able to manage dumping syndrome by changing the way you eat. If you have serious symptoms that don't get better when you change your diet, there are some medicines that your doctor can prescribe. 

Some medicines that may help you include:

Octreotide acetate (Bynfezia, Sandostatin). This reduces the levels of some hormones that cause your symptoms. You'll get this medicine as a shot, which may be at home or in a clinic or hospital. There's a short-acting version that you take daily and a long-acting version that you take monthly. 

Acarbose (Precose). This slows down your digestion of carbohydrates. It'll help keep your blood sugar in balance and reduce some symptoms from late-phase dumping syndrome. Acarbose comes as a tablet that you swallow. 

If medicine doesn't work, your doctor may suggest you have surgery to fix the problem.



Foods to eat. To help with symptoms, also try these tips:

  • Use fiber supplements, such as psyllium (Metamucil or Konsyl), methylcellulose (Citrucel), or guar gum (Benefiber).
  • Use sugar replacements, such as Splenda, Equal, or Sweet'N Low, instead of sugar.
  • Go for complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and whole-wheat bread, instead of simple carbohydrates, such as sweet rolls and ice cream.
  • To prevent dehydration, drink more than 4 cups of water or other sugar-free, decaffeinated, noncarbonated beverages throughout the day.

Foods to avoid. Avoid eating sugar and other sweets, such as:

  • Candy
  • Sweet drinks
  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Pastries
  • Sweetened breads

Also avoid dairy products and alcohol. Don't eat food and drink liquids at the same meal. In fact, don't drink 30 minutes before and after meals. Drinking liquids when you eat increases the speed that food moves through your digestive system.

How to eat. Some strategies to help reduce your symptoms and also keep well-nourished include:

  • Eat five or six small meals or snacks a day.
  • Keep portions small, such as 1 ounce of meat or a quarter-cup of vegetables.
  • Cut food into very small pieces. Chew well before swallowing.
  • Combine proteins or fats along with fruits or starches. (For example, combine fruit with cottage cheese.)
  • Stop eating when you first begin to feel full.
  • Wait to drink liquids for 30 to 45 minutes after meals.
  • Reclining after eating may help prevent light-headedness.

If you have diarrhea often, you can get dehydrated. 

Some people with serious symptoms may even avoid eating, which can cause malnutrition and weight loss.

It's important to manage your symptoms so you stay well-nourished and don't lose too much weight. Talk to your doctor about any symptoms that aren't controlled by changing the way you eat or if you lose a large amount of weight because of your symptoms. Your doctor can prescribe medication or surgery to help correct your symptoms.