Pain in or near the stomach can mean different things when it comes to type 1 diabetes (T1D).
This is one of the common symptoms of a new T1D diagnosis, and it’s one of the many symptoms that can develop quickly and become life threatening in those who are not yet diagnosed with this autoimmune condition.
But stomach pain can also occur in those already living with this T1D, from those experiencing dangerously high glucose levels to a serious medical emergency known as diabetes ketoacidosis (DKA).
Additionally, a separate condition known as gastroparesis can also materialize for those with diabetes, causing stomach pain or bloating following a meal.
Approximately 1.6 million people in the United States are living with this autoimmune condition, which occurs when the body’s immune system attacks itself and the pancreas stops producing the hormone insulin.
Though many kids and teenagers are diagnosed, a T1D diagnosis can happen at any age. In fact, a 2022 study shows that adult-onset T1D is the most common and is often misdiagnosed as type 2 diabetes (T2D).
The most common signs of T1D include:
Left untreated, type 1 diabetes (T1D) can quickly rise to a medical emergency and become life threatening. If you suspect you or a loved one are experiencing T1D symptoms, don’t ignore them. You need to see a doctor immediately — even waiting overnight or until the end of the day can be dangerous.
Another potentially life threatening complication from T1D is DKA.
When your body doesn’t have enough insulin to use in converting glucose into energy, it begins to break down fat instead. In response, your body releases ketones into your bloodstream, making your blood too acidic.
DKA can have a sudden and severe onset, and it needs to be addressed and treated with insulin immediately.
Symptoms of DKA include:
Again, DKA is a medical emergency and left untreated can lead to coma and eventually death.
Those who are undiagnosed may experience DKA suddenly, without realizing what’s happening.
But those who already live with this autoimmune condition can also develop DKA. That may occur if the person is not getting enough insulin. For example, if their insulin pump breaks or isn’t delivering insulin into the body as it should.
Gastroparesis is a frequent problem that many people with T1D experience.
Some research suggests that as many as 40 percent of those with T1D may experience gastroparesis, while 30 percent of those living with type 2 diabetes may have this condition.
Also known as chronic delayed gastric emptying, gastroparesis is essentially a digestive disorder in which the stomach muscles malfunction and slow down the rate at which food moves from your stomach to your intestine.
Gastroparesis can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, too. Those include:
Depending on its severity, gastroparesis can create a significant impact on your quality of life.
In order to diagnosis gastroparesis, you’ll need to check with your doctor or healthcare team.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and ask you questions about your medical history. In order to rule out other possible causes of your symptoms, your doctor will probably want to run some tests. These might include an ultrasound or upper endoscopy procedure, to rule out other conditions and health issues that might be impacting your stomach.
Once your doctor has ruled out other possible causes of your symptoms, they’ll order tests to evaluate how well your stomach empties. This test may include a gastric emptying scan, which involves eating a small amount of food with a harmless radioactive substance. By doing so, your doctor can see how fast food is being digested and emptied from your stomach.
Once diagnosed, you can begin treatment.
Left untreated, gastroparesis can lead to symptoms like frequent vomiting, which can cause dehydration. And it can interfere with nutrient absorption, which could lead to malnutrition over the long term.
Gastroparesis does not have a cure. But it can be managed.
Here are some ways that you and your healthcare team can treat gastroparesis:
However, dietary changes may not be enough.
Your doctor may recommend medication to improve gastric emptying or reduce nausea, such as the following:
Your doctor may also review any medications that you’re taking that could be contributing to the problem. For example, some drugs can slow down the process, including:
People who don’t respond well to medications could be candidates for other types of treatment. That may involve procedures such as gastric electric stimulation or gastric neuromodulation, which stimulate your GI system and improve symptoms.
In severe cases, some people may need to turn to enteral nutrition. This essentially means liquid nutrition but it can also mean feeding through a tube that’s inserted in your stomach or small intestine. A surgeon can perform a gastrostomy, which is a procedure that creates an opening for the placement of a feeding tube.
If you’re struggling with gastroparesis, your doctor may also suggest a review of your diabetes management strategy.
For example, normally you might take insulin about 15 to 20 minutes before eating a meal. This is known as pre-bolusing, which allows insulin to enter the bloodstream before food enters your body and begins raising your glucose levels.
If your stomach empties slowly and nutrients take longer to be absorbed, you may need to adjust the timing of when you take insulin before a meal.
Using an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) may also be able to help you maintain control over your blood glucose levels.
Stomach pain could be a sign of undiagnosed T1D or it could be a symptom of high blood sugars or even a dangerous DKA emergency. For those who have been diagnosed with T1D, stomach pain could be a sign that certain diabetes management aspects need review by your healthcare team. Many people with diabetes also experience gastroparesis that can cause stomach problems, and while it’s uncurable, this condition can be managed with different eating or drinking behaviors, as well as medications or other medical procedures.
Discuss your concerns with your doctor or diabetes care team to determine what potential solutions to your stomach issues might work best for you.
Last medically reviewed on June 22, 2022
Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.
Current Version
Jun 22, 2022
Jennifer Larson
Edited By
Mike Hoskins
Medically Reviewed By
Kelly Wood, MD
Copy Edited By
Megan McMorris
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