Diabetic Gastroparesis – Symptoms, Diagnoses, and Treatment

Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Damanjit Duggal, MD, MBBS January 5, 2022

Last updated on July 4th, 2024

Diabetic gastroparesis is a chronic condition characterised by delayed gastric emptying without any mechanical obstruction in the stomach. It is a common complication of diabetes mellitus and results from autonomic neuropathy affecting the vagus nerve, which regulates stomach muscles. This condition significantly impacts the quality of life of those affected, leading to a range of gastrointestinal symptoms. In this comprehensive blog, we will explore the symptoms, diagnosis, treatment options, and lifestyle modifications necessary to manage diabetic gastroparesis effectively.

Understanding Diabetic Gastroparesis

Diabetic gastroparesis occurs when the stomach’s motility is impaired, causing delayed emptying of its contents into the small intestine. This delay is often due to nerve damage caused by prolonged high blood sugar levels, particularly affecting the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is responsible for coordinating the contractions of the stomach muscles to move food through the digestive tract. When this nerve is damaged, the stomach cannot contract properly, leading to gastroparesis.

Also Read: Normal Blood Glucose Levels

Symptoms of Diabetic Gastroparesis

Symptoms of Diabetic Gastroparesis

The symptoms of diabetic gastroparesis can vary in severity and may include:

Nausea and Vomiting: Chronic nausea and recurrent vomiting are common symptoms, often occurring after meals.

Early Satiety: Feeling full after consuming only a small amount of food.

Bloating and Abdominal Pain: Persistent bloating and discomfort in the upper abdomen.

Anorexia and Weight Loss: Reduced appetite leading to unintentional weight loss.

Fluctuating Blood Sugar Levels: Difficulty in managing blood glucose levels due to unpredictable digestion.

Malnutrition and Dehydration: Resulting from poor nutrient absorption and chronic vomiting.

Also Read: Diabetes and Thyroid Disorders

Causes and Risk Factors

The primary cause of diabetic gastroparesis is prolonged hyperglycemia, which leads to nerve damage. However, several other factors can contribute to the development of this condition:

Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes: Both types of diabetes can cause gastroparesis, with a higher prevalence observed in type 1 diabetes patients.

Duration of Diabetes: The longer a person has diabetes, the higher the risk of developing gastroparesis.

Poor Glycemic Control: Inadequate management of blood sugar levels increases the likelihood of nerve damage.

Autoimmune Conditions: Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus can increase the risk.

Previous Gastric Surgery: Surgical procedures involving the stomach or esophagus can disrupt normal gastric motility.

Also Read: Can Type 2 Diabetes be Cured Permanently?

Impact on Quality of Life

Diabetic gastroparesis significantly impacts the quality of life of those affected. The chronic nature of the symptoms can lead to physical, emotional, and social challenges:

Physical Health: Constant nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and dehydration, exacerbating the overall health condition.

Emotional Well-being: Chronic illness can cause stress, anxiety, and depression, which are common among gastroparesis patients.

Social Life: The unpredictability of symptoms can affect social interactions and lead to isolation.

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Diagnosing Diabetic Gastroparesis

Accurate diagnosis of diabetic gastroparesis involves a combination of clinical evaluation and diagnostic tests. The following methods are commonly used:

Clinical Evaluation

A thorough medical history and physical examination are the first steps. The doctor will look for symptoms of delayed gastric emptying and assess the patient’s diabetes management.

Gastric Emptying Studies

Gastric Scintigraphy: Considered the gold standard for diagnosing gastroparesis, this test measures the rate at which food leaves the stomach. The patient consumes a radiolabeled meal, and the rate of gastric emptying is monitored using a gamma camera.

Breath Test: This non-invasive test measures the rate of gastric emptying using a stable isotope. It is a safer alternative for pregnant women and children as it does not involve radiation.

Upper Endoscopy

Upper endoscopy helps rule out mechanical obstructions in the stomach and duodenum. It involves inserting a flexible tube with a camera into the stomach to visualise the gastrointestinal tract.


This test measures the electrical activity of the stomach muscles. Recording the electrical signals that control stomach contractions helps diagnose motility disorders.


Ultrasound can be used to evaluate the emptying of a liquid meal from the stomach. It is a preferred method for pregnant women and children to avoid radiation exposure.

Treatment Options

Managing diabetic gastroparesis involves a combination of lifestyle modifications, nutritional management, medications, and in some cases, surgical interventions. The primary goals of treatment are to improve gastric motility, alleviate symptoms, and maintain adequate nutrition.

Lifestyle Modifications

Dietary Changes: Small, frequent meals with low-fat and low-fiber content are recommended. Foods that are easy to digest and low in fiber reduce the workload on the stomach.

Hydration: Drinking water throughout the day helps maintain hydration, especially after vomiting episodes.

Posture: Staying upright for 1-2 hours after meals can facilitate gastric emptying.

Nutritional Management

Nutrient-Dense Foods: Focus on nutrient-dense foods that provide essential vitamins and minerals.

Liquid Meals: Smoothies, soups, and liquid nutritional supplements can be easier to digest and provide necessary nutrients.

Monitoring Blood Sugar Levels: Regular monitoring and adjustment of insulin or oral hypoglycemic medications are crucial to maintaining stable blood glucose levels.

Pharmacological Treatments

Several medications can help manage the symptoms of diabetic gastroparesis:

Prokinetic Agents: Medications like metoclopramide and domperidone stimulate stomach muscle contractions to enhance gastric emptying.

Antiemetics: Drugs such as ondansetron and promethazine help control nausea and vomiting.

Erythromycin: This antibiotic can improve gastric motility by stimulating motilin receptors.

Endoscopic and Surgical Treatments

In severe cases where symptoms are not controlled by lifestyle and medication, more invasive treatments may be necessary:

Gastric Electrical Stimulation (GES): This procedure involves implanting a device that sends electrical impulses to the stomach muscles, enhancing gastric motility and reducing nausea and vomiting.

Pyloroplasty: Surgical widening of the pyloric sphincter can improve gastric emptying.

Jejunostomy: A feeding tube inserted into the jejunum bypasses the stomach, providing direct nutrition.

Living with Diabetic Gastroparesis

Managing diabetic gastroparesis is a long-term commitment that requires patience and perseverance. Here are some tips for living well with this condition:

Regular Medical Check-ups

Regular visits to a gastroenterologist and endocrinologist are essential for monitoring and adjusting treatment plans. Routine tests and evaluations help in early detection and management of complications.

Emotional and Mental Health Support

Support Groups: Joining support groups can provide emotional support and practical advice from others experiencing similar challenges.

Counselling: Professional counselling can help manage anxiety, depression, and stress related to chronic illness.

Self-Care Practices

Mindful Eating: Paying attention to food choices and eating habits can improve symptoms.

Physical Activity: Light to moderate exercise can stimulate digestion and improve overall well-being.

Stress Management: Techniques such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises can help manage stress, which can exacerbate symptoms.

Future Directions and Research

Research into diabetic gastroparesis is ongoing, with a focus on understanding its pathophysiology and developing more effective treatments. Future advancements may include:

Advanced Diagnostic Techniques: Improved methods for early detection and accurate assessment of gastric motility.

New Medications: Development of more effective prokinetic and antiemetic drugs with fewer side effects.

Regenerative Medicine: Exploring the potential of stem cell therapy to repair nerve damage.

Personalised Treatment Plans: Tailored treatments based on individual patient profiles and genetic markers.


Diabetic gastroparesis is a complex condition that requires a multidisciplinary approach for effective management. By understanding the symptoms, causes, and treatment options, patients and healthcare providers can work together to improve the quality of life. Ongoing research and advancements in medical science hold promise for better management and potential cures in the future.

Living with diabetic gastroparesis can be challenging, but with proper care, lifestyle adjustments, and medical support, it is possible to manage the symptoms and lead a fulfilling life. Regular communication with healthcare providers, staying informed about new treatments, and maintaining a positive outlook are crucial steps in managing this condition.

Also Read: Early Symptoms of Diabetes

FAQ’s(Frequently Asked Questions)

When did you need to call your healthcare provider?

It is important to keep a track of your health conditions during diabetes. Connect with your healthcare provider if you witness any of these symptoms, such severe abdominal pain, unable to retain food or liquids down, unexplained weight loss, inability to control blood sugar (too high or too low) and other symptoms that are indicated by your healthcare provider.

What are the complications with diabetic gastroparesis?

Food can ferment in the stomach. This causes the growth of bacteria. Undigested food can also harden into a mass called a bezoar. This can lead to nausea and vomiting. In some cases, they can prevent food from passing from the stomach to the small intestine. Gastroparesis can make it challenging to manage blood sugar levels. It can also cause problems for the body to absorb vitamins and minerals.

How does diabetes effect the digestive system?

Poor control of type -2 diabetes can lead to various digestive disorders. Basically, increasing blood sugar levels leads to neuropathy, which in turn increases the risk of health issues such as acid reflux and gastroparesis. Common digestion issues should never be ignored in the case of diabetic patients.

Is gastroparesis dangerous?

Although diabetes gastroparesis is not so dangerous, it definitely can cause serious complications if not treated on time. Some of the complications it can cause include malnutrition, dehydration, and can lead to a situation where it blocks the flow of food out of the stomach.

What are the causes of diabetic gastroparesis?

The specific vagus nerve helps control the movement of food throughout the digestive system. This nerve can be damaged due to chronic high blood sugar caused by diabetes that is not well treated. This causes food to move slowly or to stop moving. They push food to digest.

Last Updated on by Dr. Damanjit Duggal 


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