Gastroparesis

Diabetes can damage the vagus nerve
Diabetes can damage the vagus nerve

Gastroparesis is a disorder in which the stomach takes too long to empty. It affects people with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

However, people with type 1 are at a much greater risk. When blood glucose levels fluctuate regularly, diabetes can damage the vagus nerve.

This is the nerve that moves food through the digestive tract.

Gastroparesis is a sign of autonomic neuropathy which may also affect other involuntary actions in the body.

Why is gastroparesis a problem for diabetics?

When the vagus nerve stops functioning properly, gastroparesis can cause food to harden into solid masses, causing blockages and potential infection from bacteria.

When the stomach does not work properly, the absorption of blood glucose is also affected, and controlling blood sugar may be more difficult.

This occurs in around 20% of type 1 diabetics.

Gastroparesis symptoms

The following signs could be symptoms of gastroparesis:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • An early feeling of fullness during food consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Bloating in the abdominal region
  • Abdominal discomfort

Inform your doctor if you regularly experience these symptoms.

How is gastroparesis diagnosed?

Patients eat or drink barium, or perhaps consume food with a radioactive substance which will show up on a scan.

The doctor will then be able to see if gastroparesis is affecting you. Further tests may include a tube-scope to measure electrical and muscular stomach activity.

How is gastroparesis treated?

Like most complications of diabetes, the first thing is to get your blood glucose levels under control. Doctors may instantly adjust insulin levels and provide you with medication.

Your diet may also need to be changed, including portions and meal frequency.

Some doctors recommend parenteral nutrition - direct delivery of nutrition to the blood stream.

There are several types of gastroparesis drugs, including:

  • Metoclopramide
  • Erythromycin
  • Antiemetics

By changing your diet you may also be able to control gastroparesis.

This might include eating 6 small meals per day instead of 3, eating liquid meals, avoiding fatty foods, and avoiding high-fibre foods.

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