How Does Diabetes (Type-2) Affect the Digestive System?

In the early stages of type-2 diabetes, the disease may be easy to ignore especially if you are still feeling fine. But in fact, it can affect the major organs of the body if left uncontrolled, including the digestive system. Other organs that are often linked with the diabetes complications are kidneys, heart & blood vessels, eyes, and nerves.

All types of diabetes (type-1, type-2, and gestational diabetes (typically it only occurs during pregnancy)) affect the mechanism of the body in using glucose /sugar.

This simple substance of carbohydrate is needed by the body to produce energy or fuel. If glucose in the bloodstream cannot be effectively converted into energy, the blood sugar level will increase. If this occurs frequently /too often or left untreated (not well-controlled), a cascade of other health problems can occur!

Keep monitoring your blood sugar!

Having frequent high blood sugar in long term can trigger diabetes complications. That’s why, to prevent or lower the risk of the complications from the disease, it’s very crucial for diabetics in managing and controlling their blood sugar level as well.

In other words, regular blood sugar tests are required for patients. This can help you to get to know the level of your blood sugar regularly so thus you will know exactly what you need to do! There are several choices to help monitoring your blood sugar, such as:

CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitoring System) is one of practical choices to keep self-monitoring your blood sugar. It uses a very small sensor that located under the skin – particularly in the tissue fluid under the skin. With this idea, a transmitter of the sensor can transfer the information of the blood sugar level continuously. CGM also can help monitor certain subtle changes that may be missed or not detected by a conventional home glucose monitoring tool.
With this self-monitoring option, you can monitor your blood sugar by tracking it with a handheld meter and taking a drop of your blood (commonly taken from a finger). To find the level of your blood sugar, the drop of your blood is inserted into a special test-strip of the handled meter. Wait a few seconds /a few minutes, and then you will know the level of your blood sugar.
It is not a kind of self-monitoring for blood sugar. But it has a beneficial feature of providing the history of your blood sugar for about the past 2-3 months – which then can be so helpful to analyze the progress and fluctuation of your blood sugar more completely. If you have type-2 diabetes, you should take this test for at least about 2 times a year, according to the American Diabetes Association.

How does type-2 diabetes affect the digestive system?

Gastroparesis may be the most common digestive problem that affects patients with diabetes.

Though it is relatively more common in type-1 diabetes, but sometime it also can occur in people with type-2. It will make your stomach work slower than usual in emptying its contents – this condition is also called as ‘delayed gastric (stomach) emptying’. In other words, the gastric is no longer to empty itself in a normal practice.

Alternative treatment /therapies

Below is a picture (credit to Mayo Clinic) that helps describe the mechanisms in the stomach in emptying its contents:

How does the stomach empty itself naturally

The stomach (gastric) is a kind of muscular sac. The size is about similar to a small melon, but your stomach can expand when you drink and eat. Once it pulverizes the food, the contractions of strong muscular (these contractions familiar known as ‘peristaltic waves’) will drive and direct the food move forward to the pyloric valve, then eventually go into the duodenum (the upper section of the small intestine).

How does gastroparesis occur in diabetes?

Not well-controlled blood sugar in people with diabetes can increase the risk of the vagus nerve damage. Having frequent high blood sugar over a long period of time is very bad for the performance of the vagus nerve. It also can damage the blood vessels that supply essential nutrients and O2 (oxygen) to the nerves.

The vagus nerve is very crucial for your digestive system. It can regulate the way of digestive system to work and make the muscles work.

If the vagus nerve is no longer to work properly – this can significantly affect the rhythm of stomach in emptying itself naturally, because the muscles of the intestine and stomach cannot work optimally. As a result, foods that you eat is almost not processed in the stomach and also not distributed through the gut.

Though gastroparesis can be treated with appropriate diet, medicines, insulin management, or even with a feeding tube (typically for a severe case of gastroparesis), but delayed digestion due to this digestive problem can bring a new problem for the management of diabetes. Diabetics with this digestive problem are more likely to become very poor in controlling their blood sugar.

What are other conditions that can lead to gastroparesis?

Poorly controlled & managed blood sugar in diabetes is not the single reason for the cause /factor of the increasing risk for gastroparesis. Sometime, this digestive problem may also be caused by some of the following conditions:

  1. Scleroderma and Amyloidosis – fortunately, both are rare health conditions.
  2. Parkinson’s disease.
  3. After stomach surgery, particularly certain surgery that can be potential to injury or affect the vagus nerve.
  4. Multiple sclerosis.
  5. Abusing drugs (such as abusing narcotics)
  6. And certain medications, such as certain antidepressants.

What are the symptoms and signs of gastroparesis?

type-2_diabetes_affects_digestive_system_illustrationThe symptoms of this digestive problem in diabetes may include:

  1. Weight loss that occurs due to lack of appetite.
  2. Easier to feel full during and after eating.
  3. Nausea that may also followed by vomiting (particularly vomiting for undigested foods).
  4. Bloating.
  5. More difficult to control your blood sugar.
  6. Gastroesophageal reflux or heartburn.

Gastroparesis in diabetes not only cause a new problem for controlling the blood sugar, but also can lead to: