If you have diabetes, and you also have gut issues, like diarrhea, constipation, gas, and bloating, youre certainly not alone. As many as 75 percent of people with diabetes also report having issues with their stomach or digestion.
Diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are both fairly common conditions, and its possible to have both at the same time. In fact, the two conditions may be related. Diabetes can damage the nerves around the gut and lead to symptoms of IBS, such as:
Some diabetes medications, as well as some foods that people with diabetes eat, such as foods high in fiber and sugar alcohols like sorbitol, can also affect the bowels, leading to diarrhea or constipation.
With a little extra effort, both IBS and diabetes can be managed through diet, medications, and stress reduction.
Diabetes and irritable bowel syndrome are two different conditions, and its possible to have them both.
IBS is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by a group of symptoms that typically occur together. These symptoms may include:
IBS is thought to be related to problems with how your brain and your gut work together.
Diabetes occurs when your body cant make enough of the hormone insulin or cant use insulin effectively. Diabetes is a systemic disease. This means it affects many parts of the body at once.
People with diabetes have higher than normal levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. This is known as hyperglycemia. Over time, high blood sugar can lead to complications in many parts of the body, including the gastrointestinal tract.
Many people with diabetes complain of:
Over time, high blood sugar from diabetes can cause damage to the nerves, called neuropathy, in the gastrointestinal tract. This can impair your brains ability to communicate with your gut.
The damage can cause a slowing down or speeding up of intestinal function, leading to either constipation or diarrhea common symptoms of IBS.
There are other ways that high blood sugar can lead to gastrointestinal symptoms:
In general, its best for people with diabetes to eat healthy foods with a high fiber content, like whole grains and vegetables, to help stabilize blood sugar levels. People with diabetes should try to avoid highly processed foods and foods high in sugar.
Some people with IBS may also benefit from a high fiber, low sugar diet, but sometimes foods high in fiber can trigger symptoms of IBS. Foods high in fiber include:
If you tend to have diarrhea as a result of IBS or diabetes, you may want to reduce the amount of soluble fiber in your diet. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as:
If you tend to get constipated as a result of IBS or diabetes, you may want to increase your intake of insoluble fiber, which is found in foods like:
Many people with IBS experience symptoms when they eat certain types of vegetables called cruciferous vegetables. Examples include:
Legumes, such as beans, may also trigger symptoms of IBS, though this isnt true for everyone. You may need to keep a food diary to track which foods trigger your symptoms.
Many people with diabetes try to limit their sugar intake, so they instead opt for sugar substitutes. Unfortunately, many of these are linked to GI symptoms and may need to be avoided if you have both diabetes and IBS.
Sorbitol and xylitol are two sugar substitutes that have been linked to GI symptoms. A good substitute for people with IBS and diabetes is a natural sweetener known as stevia.
You may be able to alleviate symptoms of both diabetes and IBS by making the following changes to your diet and lifestyle:
IBS may make it difficult for your body to digest food at a normal rate. Because of this, blood sugar levels may be unpredictable after a meal. Checking your blood sugar levels before and after a meal can help you determine how your body responds.
Both constipation, which is too few bowel movements, and diarrhea, which is frequent, loose bowel movements, are common in people with diabetes.
Its estimated that around 20 percent of people with diabetes experience frequent diarrhea, while up to 60 percent of people with diabetes experience constipation.
Fecal incontinence, a loss of bowel control, may also occur in people with diabetes.
Gastroparesis is a digestive condition characterized by delayed gastric emptying. This means that food stays in the stomach for too long rather than moving into the small intestine to be digested further.
Diabetes is the leading cause of gastroparesis. High blood sugar from diabetes can damage the vagus nerve the nerve that connects the brain to the gastrointestinal tract.
When this happens, the vagus nerve can no longer send messages that tell the stomach muscles to empty the stomach.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
Metformin is the most widely used oral type 2 diabetes medication. People newly diagnosed with type 2 diabetes are often prescribed metformin to manage their blood sugar.
Some people who start taking metformin experience side effects in the digestive tract like diarrhea, nausea, and abdominal pain. These symptoms typically go away over time as the body adjusts to the medication. You can reduce these effects by taking metformin with a meal.
You should see your doctor if youre experiencing frequent diarrhea or constipation or both, or youre having trouble managing your blood sugar levels with diet, exercise, and medications.
A medical professional will want to know about your symptoms and any medications that youre taking.
If you have diabetes, IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, and bloating could mean that blood sugars are not under control. Long-term, this can lead to nerve damage in the GI tract.
However, these symptoms could also be tied to eating certain foods, consuming sugar alcohols, or taking certain diabetes medications, such as metformin.
See a medical professional if youre experiencing frequent diarrhea or constipation or having trouble managing your blood sugar levels. The earlier you treat diabetes, the less likely youll be to develop more serious complications, such as nerve damage and gastroparesis.
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IBS and Diabetes: What's the Connection? - Healthline