Although gastrointestinal problems may not be the first thing that come to mind when you think of diabetes, many people with the disease do experience stomach problems. This happens for a variety of reasons, from physical complications of the disease itself, or from medication taken to treat it.
One possible source of stomach pain is gas and bloating, which often occur as a result of changes in eating habits that come with treating diabetes: as part of a healthy diet, you should be eating more fruits, vegetables, and legumes, whose healthy dose of fiber can cause these unpleasant side effects. The good news is that increasing your intake gradually, rather than loading your diet with brussels sprouts at every meal, can help ease these symptoms.
Gastroparesis – delayed emptying of the stomach – may also be a source of discomfort. Most often found in people with Type 1 diabetes, this condition is the result of damage to the vagus nerve, which controls the movement of muscles in the stomach, intestines, and the rest of the digestive tract. Because the nerve is not functioning properly, it cannot help empty the stomach correctly, which can cause heartburn or vomiting undigested food as the contents of the stomach gets backed up; it also leads to nausea and affects appetite, causing a feeling of early satiety when eating. Aside from these unpleasant symptoms, the unmoved food can have longer-lasting consequences, such bacterial infections, stomach blockages, and weight loss from a reduced appetite. Dietary changes (such as avoiding fat and certain sources of fiber), a variety of medications, and, in some cases, gastric electrical stimulation may be used to treat gastroparesis.
Sometimes the problem isn’t physical, but medical: certain prescription medications used to keep blood glucose levels low (especially for Type 2 diabetes) can cause gastrointestinal discomfort such as diarrhea, nausea and heartburn. This can sometimes be helped by lowering or gradually increasing the dosage, or by taking the medication on a full stomach rather than an empty one.
Often, the best solution to diabetic stomach pain is a careful regulation of diet and blood sugar levels – keeping them healthy and stable is extremely important. However, this alone may not be enough, so discuss your symptoms and possible treatment options with your doctor.