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Sore Stomach, Slow Digestion: Digestive Health in Seniors With Type 2 Diabetes

written by: Tricia Edgar • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 5/6/2011

Digestive health problems in elderly type 2 diabetics may cause a diabetic complication called gastroparesis. This digestive condition is caused by damage to the digestive nerves and leads to slow stomach emptying. This may make people feel full, bloated, or sick.

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    Seniors With Diabetes May Have Digestive Complications

    Poor digestive health can make eating feel like a chore. For elderly patients who have persistent stomach problems and a history of diabetes, stomach problems such as vomiting, nausea, bloating and weight loss can be due to a diabetic complication called gastroparesis. Both type 2 and type 1 diabetics can experience digestive problems due to this complication.

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    Type 2 Diabetes and Digestion

    Gastroparesis, a form of neuropathy, is a digestive condition that is a complication of diabetes. Neuropathy means that the nerves have been damaged by changes in blood sugar over the years. In this case, the vagus nerve and stomach muscles that tell the stomach to digest and empty and perform its usual functions have been damaged. This leads to a variety of conditions, such as slow digestion and stomach emptying, partial digestion of food and vomiting. If you have had diabetes for many years and you are experiencing digestive problems, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of gastroparesis.

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    Slow Digestion or Gastroparesis Makes Blood Glucose Management Challenging

    Digestive health problems in elderly type 2 diabetics can make it difficult to manage blood sugar levels, especially in those who take diabetes medication or use insulin. Food digests more slowly and unpredictably, and this means that blood sugars do not act as they would in a person without gastroparesis. People with gastroparesis may experience low blood sugars after eating, since food does not digest quickly. These may be followed by high blood sugars when the food digests.

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    Treatment for Gastroparesis

    If you have gastroparesis, it is usually a chronic condition. However, it can be managed to a degree by finding a diet that works for you. Your doctor will refer you to a dietitian who will help you find foods that work for you. Some foods that tend to be easier to digest include low-fiber food, cooked food, lower-fat food and liquids. It is important to eat small and frequent meals and drink water after you eat. In severe situations, a doctor may recommend that you get a feeding tube to make it simpler to get calories and nutrients.

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    Good Blood Sugar Control Can Reduce the Risk of Complications

    In the early stages of digestive complications, it is important to reduce further damage through good blood sugar management. This is measured in part by the A1C, a number that gives doctors an indication of the average blood sugar values over time. A higher average generally leads to a higher likelihood of complications. Increasingly, people are becoming aware that the change in blood sugars is also important. Wild swings from high to low and low to high also damage the body. Eating consistent, small quantities of low glycemic foods that have modest amounts of carbohydrates can help balance blood sugar in type 2 diabetics.

    In elderly patients, it is important to achieve good control, but it is also important to avoid severe low blood sugars that can lead to fainting, coma and even death. Doctors tend to recommend that elderly patients work towards a slightly higher average blood sugar, especially when they live alone. Work with a doctor to adjust insulin or medication levels to make sure that your gastroparesis does not lead to severe low blood sugars.

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    Get Support to Manage Digestive Disorders

    Gastroparesis can make diabetes management a lot more challenging for elderly patients. It is important to work with health professionals to manage your blood sugar and your diet to help find a diet that feels good to you and maintains consistent blood sugar levels.

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    References

    National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gastroparesis

    National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse: Digestive Diseases and Diabetes

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