Diabetic Gastroparesis: Learn About Your Gastroparesis Diet Plan, Symptoms and More!

by Cindy

Diabetic Gastroparesis

Of the many different diabetic complications, gastroparesis is a very common, uncomfortable problem that is often overshadowed by complications such as diabetic kidney disease, vision loss and nerve damage. 

What Is Gastroparesis?

Gastroparesis is also frequently called delayed gastric emptying.  This condition can best be described as a slowing of the movement of food through the gastrointestinal tract that is unrelated to blockage. 

In a normal gastrointestinal tract food is pushed through by a gentle, wave-like motion known as peristalsis.  In patients with gastroparesis normal peristalsis is disrupted.  It is believed that this condition is caused by damage to the nerves that control this process.

Diabetes is the leading cause of gastroparesis, although this disorder can be caused by a number of other conditions such as medications, surgical procedures, viral infections and autoimmune disorders.

Gastroparesis Symptoms

Symptoms of gastroparesis in diabetics include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Acid Reflux
  • Bloating
  • Early Satiety (Sensation of fullness)
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Erratic Blood Sugar Levels

Gastroparesis can also cause serious problems such as intestinal blockage if the food remains in the stomach for too long and cannot pass through the intestinal tract.  These masses of digested food are called bezoars and may require surgical removal.

Diagnosis of Gastroparesis in Diabetics

After a complete physical examination your doctor may send you for special testing if he believes that you may have gastroparesis.  The most commonly used tests are ultrasound, barium swallow testing and upper gastrointestinal endoscopy.  More specific tests that measure gastric emptying may also be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Diabetic Gastroparesis Treatment

Gastroparesis is very uncomfortable and it can lead to numerous problems for the diabetic patient.  It is important to establish care with a specialist who can help your primary care physician manage your symptoms.  Often this condition is treated using dietary modification and medications.  Patients with diabetes must monitor their glucose levels very closely because this condition can cause drastic and unpredictable changes in your blood sugar.

Gastroparesis Diet Plan

Patients with gastroparesis may be asked to change their diet in the following ways: 

  • Smaller Meals:  If you have gastroparesis your physician will likely advise you to eat smaller, more frequent meals.  Often the gastroparesis diet requires six small meals per day instead of a large breakfast, lunch and dinner.  This will also help relieve abdominal discomfort due to fullness.
  • Avoid Fats:  Diets that are high in fats can aggravate this condition because fatty foods actually slow down your digestive tract.  This is problematic in a patient who already has delayed gastric emptying.
  • Avoid High Fiber Diet:  Foods that are high in fiber can cause intestinal blockage because fiber cannot be digested and can form large bezoars.
  • Pureed or Liquid Diet:  For extreme cases you may be asked to stick to a liquid diet.
  • Feeding Tube:  If patients can no longer tolerate a regular or liquid diet then a feeding tube or IV nutrition may be necessary to prevent weight loss, malnutrition and death from this diabetic complication.


Gastroparesis Medications

There are several types of medications that are used to help manage the symptoms of gastroparesis.  Anti-nausea medications are commonly used to help relieve this uncomfortable symptoms.  Erythromycin may be given to help stimulate gastric emptying. 

Other Gastroparesis Treatments

The use of botox injections and domperidone are currently under investigation for their potential to help relieve symptoms of gastroparesis.  Some patients may benefit from electronic stimulation of the vagus nerve to help facilitate gastric emptying and reduce symptoms. 

Gastroparesis is a common, but often forgotten, complication of diabetes.  It occurs in both type 1 and type 2 diabetics because it is a form of diabetic neuropathy.  If you have symptoms of gastroparesis it is important to see your doctor.  Prior to your visit, take note of what you are feeling and when these symptoms occur.  This should help your doctor reach his diagnosis.  If you currently do not have these symptoms, your best defense against this complication of diabetes is to keep your blood sugars in excellent control.

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