Gastroparesis, also known as delayed gastric emptying, is a condition that prevents the stomach from emptying properly. When the movement of your food slows down or stops inside your gastrointestinal tract, you may have symptoms like nausea or vomiting. Without treatment, gastroparesis can lead to serious complications.
In people with diabetes, gastroparesis is a common complication caused by damage to the cells and nerves involved in digestion. It may not be possible to prevent this condition, but there are things you can do to help manage its symptoms and prevent them from getting worse.
Gastroparesis symptoms can be mild or severe, depending on your own situation. Similarly, some people may experience only one or two symptoms, while others have many. The most common symptoms are a feeling of fullness after eating a few bites and nausea after eating that may be persistent.
The symptoms of gastroparesis are like other health conditions, so your health care provider might not immediately suspect it. A series of blood sugar measurements can provide a clue. People with diabetes may have difficulty controlling their blood sugar levels for many reasons. For example, with slow stomach emptying, the medications you take for diabetes, especially insulin, can take action before you have absorbed your food. This can result in low blood glucose readings soon after eating meals. Then later when your medication wears off, your food may finally be absorbed and your glucose can then go very high. You may have to adjust the timing of medications if you have this condition.
Gastroparesis may cause these symptoms:
- Acid reflux, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or heartburn
- Frequent burping
- Poor appetite
- Upper abdominal pain
The most common cause of gastroparesis is diabetes. Frequent high blood glucose levels can damage specialized cells in the stomach. It can also affect the vagus nerve, which sends and receives signals from the brain that help regulate digestion.
Gastroparesis may also be caused by:
- Bacterial or viral infections
- Certain medications
- Nervous system disorders, such as multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease
- Some autoimmune diseases
- Vagus nerve injury due to esophagus, small intestine or stomach surgery
People with diabetes may be able to prevent or delay the nerve damage that can lead to gastroparesis by managing their blood sugar levels and keeping them in the range recommended by their health care provider.
Complications of gastroparesis can degrade your overall health and quality of life. People with gastroparesis are particularly at risk for dehydration and malnutrition, which are both serious and potentially life-threatening conditions.
Other complications of gastroparesis include:
- Bezoars (balls of food, mucus and other materials the stomach can’t digest and that may cause blockage or damage to the digestive tract)
- Electrolyte imbalance (having too much or too little of certain minerals that help the body function)
- Hard-to-control blood glucose levels
- Unintentional weight loss