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If you're diabetic, whether type 1 or type 2, and you often feel sick after you eat, you are not alone. Diabetic gastroparesis is one of a few possible causes, and here we'll take a look at the nature of this condition, its symptoms, and how to manage it.

We all feel sick to our stomach after eating occasionally — and for many people, that'll be a sign that they're ill, or that the food they ate didn't agree with them. Some people with diabetes, both type 1 and type 2, however, complain that they're often nauseous after eating anything from a sugary snack to a healthy but light meal. 

In case you were wondering if your diabetes could be to blame, the answer is a resounding "yes". The mechanisms behind this unpleasant symptom can, however, vary significantly.

Here, we'll be taking a more detailed look at one possible cause of diabetes-related nausea after eating — diabetic gastroparesis — as well as quickly covering the alternative causes, since it's never safe to assume that you know what's behind your nausea unless you have received a proper diagnosis. 

What is diabetic gastroparesis? 

Gastroparesis is a condition in which food does not move from your stomach to your small intestine at the normal speed, and in some cases, this process may even grind to a halt completely. After food is sufficiently processed in the stomach, strong muscles within it would typically push it down further into the digestive tract, but in people who have gastroparesis, these muscles don't function as they should. The condition is also referred to as delayed gastric emptying. 

In most people who have gastroparesis, the underlying cause will never be found — but in those patients whose gastroparesis does have a known cause, diabetes is the number one culprit. It has been known that diabetes can lead to gastroparesis for nearly 100 years now, and the underlying reason behind that is that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to nerve damage. In this case, the damage is to the vagus nerve, which helps direct the stomach muscles.

Not only does research show that nearly five percent of people with type 1 diabetes and one percent of people with type 2 diabetes have diabetic gastroparesis, up to 18 percent of diabetics have symptoms that could point to its presence but do not have a diagnosis yet. 

What are the symptoms of diabetic gastroparesis that every diabetic should be familiar with?

Besides feelings of nausea that may lead to vomiting clearly undigested foods shortly after eating, people who have diabetic gastroparesis are also likely to experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Frequent episodes of heartburn.
  • Quickly feeling full, and unable to eat more, even after eating very little.
  • Low appetite.
  • Resulting weight loss.
  • Abdominal bloating.
  • Ups and downs in blood sugar levels.
  • Stomach spasms that may lead to significant abdominal discomfort. 

How is diabetic gastroparesis managed?

Nobody wants to live with that unpleasant set of symptoms — but unfortunately, there is no definitive cure for this condition. That means patients will have to rely on lifestyle changes, especially around the way they eat, to manage the condition. The good news here is that these changes can go a long way toward offering you relief:

  • Eating smaller meals more frequently, both to reduce your symptoms and to allow you to eat more.
  • Fiber-rich diets are usually encouraged, but for people with diabetic gastroparesis, they can slow gastric emptying further. You will likely be encouraged to reduce your fiber intake.
  • Drinking plenty of water, often.
  • Avoiding lying down shortly after you eat to help stimulate digestion. That means not eating right before bed, and gentle exercise, like a walk, after meals may greatly help patients with diabetic gastroparesis. 

If these lifestyle changes do not offer relief, medications may also be an option. For starters, well-controlled diabetes helps reduce the risk of developing diabetic gastroparesis in the first place, but if you already have it, aiming for excellently managed and steady blood glucose levels will help you a lot. Additional medications can also be prescribed to stimulate gastric emptying, such as Metoclopramide and Domperidone, which help your stomach muscle contract more effectively. 

What else can cause nausea after eating in people with diabetes?

If all or nearly all of the symptoms of diabetic gastroparesis sound familiar to you, you can safely suspect that you have the condition — and it is time to ask your doctor about it. Starting with a simple physical exam and a chat, imaging tests and an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy can give a definitive diagnosis. 

Diabetic gastroparesis is not the only cause of nausea after eating in diabetes patients, however, or even the most common one. Other culprits include:

  • Hyperglycemia or hypoglycemia — high or low blood sugar levels. Adjusting your diet, eating regularly, and taking your medications exactly as prescribed will help you combat this common problem.
  • Medications you take. Metformin is, for example, known to have the ability to cause nausea in some people. In this case, asking if you can be put on another medication may be a solution. 
  • Pancreatitis also causes nausea, and this inflammation of the pancreas is more likely to occur in people who have diabetes.

With that overview out of the way, diabetics who feel nauseous after eating often should know what time it is — time to make a doctor's appointment! Together, you and your doctor will get to the bottom of why you feel sick after you eat, and try to find the very best way to manage this symptom and, where possible, its causes.

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