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Understanding Diabetic Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis is a rare and severe digestive condition affecting only around 4% of the US population.[1] However, if you are diabetic, your chances of developing gastroparesis increase dramatically. Gastroparesis affects:
  • 27%-50% of people with type 1 diabetes
  • 30% of people with type 2 diabetes[2]
 
Diabetes is prevalent among those living in the Bronx.[3] At BronxDocs, we want to make sure our diabetic patients know what symptoms to look for, so they can discuss them with their primary care provider as early as possible.
 
What is Gastroparesis?
 
The word “gastroparesis” comes from a Greek phrase meaning “stomach paralysis.” The role of the stomach is to digest food properly and convert it into resources for the body. However, this process can be disrupted by nerve damage, leading to digestive problems.[4]
 
 
Symptoms
 
Gastroparesis symptoms can range from mild or severe. If you have diabetes and recognize any of the following symptoms, do not hesitate to contact your physician to see if you might have gastroparesis.
 
  1. Heartburn
Heartburn is commonly a burning sensation in the center of your chest, but in some cases may also be felt higher up in your throat or mouth. These symptoms might worsen whenever you lie down or eat.[5]
 
  1. Nausea and vomiting
Nausea with or without vomiting is a symptom of gastroparesis. People with gastroparesis may vomit undigested food even several hours after their last meal.[6]
 
  1. Fullness
One of the most common symptoms is a constant feeling of fullness whenever you are trying to eat or an inability to finish even a small meal. If you continue to notice a lack of appetite, you should reach out to your physician.
 
  1. Epigastric pain
If you feel pain below your ribs near your upper abdomen, it could be a sign of gastroparesis. 
 
  1. Stomach spasms
Stomach spasms are involuntary contractions of your stomach, intestines, or abdominal muscles. These spasms can feel like a slight twitch or might be severe enough to lead to cramps.
 
  1. Weight loss
Whether it’s through lack of appetite, vomiting, or lack of absorption, unexpected weight loss can be a symptom of the condition.
 
Complications
 
  1. Malnutrition
Gastroparesis prevents food from being digested and absorbed properly. As a result, your body might not be receiving the vital nutrients necessary to keep it running healthily.
 
  1. Dehydration
Repeated vomiting and digestion struggles can worsen your symptoms and cause dehydration.
 
  1. Erratic blood sugar levels
If nerve damage is disrupting your body’s ability to transfer food to the small intestine, you may have increasing difficultly accurately monitoring your blood sugar levels, which may in turn worsen your diabetes symptoms.[7]
 
  1. Bezoars
Undigested food can clump together and harden in the stomach. This blockage can be fatal and is known as a ‘bezoar.”
 
 
What to do if you suspect you may have diabetic gastroparesis
 
While gastroparesis is a lifelong disease, changes to diet and medication are among the ways to gain relief and limit complications. Get in touch with your primary care provider if you think you may have diabetic gastroparesis. The earlier you begin to address gastroparesis, the better chance you have of controlling your symptoms and properly managing your diabetes.
 
 

Citations

[1] Hasler, William L. “Gastroparesis--current concepts and considerations.” Medscape journal of medicine vol. 10,1 16. 23 Jan. 2008. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258461/ (Aug. 2020)
[2] Hasler (2008)
[3]Palmer, J. “Diabetes in the Bronx: epicenter of an epidemic” The Riverdale Press, 21 Aug. 2013. Retrieved from:  https://riverdalepress.com/stories/Diabetes-in-the-Bronx-epicenter-of-an-epidemic,52855 (Aug. 2020)
[4] American College of Gastroenterology. “Gastroparesis: Basics.” Retrieved from: https://gi.org/topics/gastroparesis/ (Aug. 2020)
[5] International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders. “Heartburn: Nothing to do with the Heart” Retrieved from: https://www.aboutgerd.org/signs-symptoms/heartburn-nothing-to-do-with-the-heart.html (Aug. 2020)
[6] American College of Gastroenterology. “Gastroparesis: Basics.”
[7] Mayo Clinic. “Gastroparesis: Symptoms and causes” Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-condition/gastroparesis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355787 (Aug. 2020)
Posted: 9/21/2020 2:01:41 PM by John Lynch


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