How to prevent gastroparesis, which can be caused by diabetes
Diabetes can lead to the undiagnosed condition, which severely affects the digestive system
Diabetes can affect many parts of the body over time and even lead to an undiagnosed condition known as gastroparesis – when the spontaneous movement of the muscles in one’s stomach does not function normally.
As such, it takes longer than it should for food to exit the stomach and travel further down the gastrointestinal tract.
Other times, the stomach may pass the food very quickly.
This unpredictability makes it difficult for patients with diabetes to know when to take insulin, and their blood sugar levels may get too high or too low at times, thus putting them at risk of diabetes-related complications such as kidney damage.
Chronic gastroparesis in diabetes patients can also result in symptoms going beyond nausea and vomiting, and cause pain and discomfort in the upper abdomen, leading to malnutrition and diminished quality of life. It can also cause their oesophagus to be inflamed, making swallowing difficult, if left untreated.
An overseas study has shown that gastroparesis affects 30 per cent to 60 per cent of those with type 1 diabetes, and approximately 30 per cent of those with type 2 diabetes.
Dr Andrew Ong, a consultant at Singapore General Hospital’s department of gastroenterology and hepatology, said the hospital sees about five new diabetic gastroparesis cases a month.
However, he believes the number may be much higher as more Singaporeans are diagnosed with diabetes each year.
With August being Gastroparesis Awareness Month, Dr Ong shares more about the condition.
How prevalent is gastroparesis in Singapore?
It is still under-diagnosed because there is a lack of awareness. To diagnose it, you need to do a gastric emptying test, which is not available in primary care when you visit the general practitioner.
There is also a lack of awareness among patients and doctors about this condition, primarily because there is a large overlap with symptoms from other common gut ailments such as gastritis or gastric pains.
What are the factors contributing to gastroparesis?
Long-standing poor diabetic control and raised body mass index will increase the risk of diabetic patients developing gastroparesis.
Patients who suffer from other complications such as nerve damage, eye damage and kidney damage are also more likely to develop gastroparesis.
Does gastroparesis affect non-diabetics too?
Though diabetes is the most common cause, others can include Parkinson’s disease, post-viral illnesses and post-surgery cases.
Women are more likely to get gastroparesis. Diabetic gastroparesis patients tend to have type 1 diabetes in the younger patients, and long-standing type 2 diabetes in the older ones.
What precautions can be taken?
Strict sugar control and avoidance of medications that may trigger it, like opiates and anti-diarrhoeal medications.
Avoid foods that are high in fat and calories as these empty slower than foods with less. Eating many smaller meals and more in liquid forms such as porridge will also help reduce the symptoms.