Digestive disorders like constipation and diarrhea are common in diabetics. As many as 60% of the diabetics suffer from constipation, either once every while or chronically. Constipation itself can give rise to many other potentially serious complications. Let’s understand diabetes and constipation in greater detail.
Diabetes And Constipation: What’s The Connection?
High blood sugar can damage the nerves. And this is the underlying cause of all gastrointestinal problems in diabetes. Nerves carry impulses from the brain to all the organs of the body. Nerves are like electrical wires that carry current to various electrical appliances in our homes. Just like the electrical wires are insulated with an insulating cover of rubber or plastic, similarly, our nerves are also insulated by a sheath of protein called myelin. Due to high blood sugar levels, this protective sheath is eroded and nerves lose their ability to effectively transmit impulses from the brain to the organs. High blood sugar, thus, leads to various kinds of neuropathies wherein complications arise due to the nerves not being able to carry impulses effectively.
Digestion is a complex process that is also controlled by nerve impulses from the autonomic nervous system. Muscular movements in the digestive tract occur at defined intervals in response to food intake. These muscular movements help in moving digested food and its byproducts along the tract and finally, outside the body. Because nerves are damaged in diabetes, these movements are affected leading to constipation.
In type 2 diabetes, constipation can also occur when you are on certain medications. For example, many diabetics also suffer from high blood pressure and heart disease. Doctors prescribe drugs called calcium channel blockers to such people for controlling blood pressure. These drugs are known to cause constipation. Iron supplements (to treat anemia) and diuretics (water pills) can also cause constipation.
Symptoms Of Constipation
A person is generally said to be constipated when he or she passes stool less than three times a week. While bowel movements differ from one individual to the other and also between cultures, a person is said to be constipated when regular bowel movements are severely impaired. Constipation comes with symptoms like:
- Pain in the abdomen
- Difficulty passing stools
- Hard & lumpy stools
Treating Diabetes And Constipation
Treatment strategies for constipation in case of diabetes will depend upon the cause of the condition. If the condition is caused by a medication or a supplement you are taking, your doctor will stop that medication or supplement for the time being. Treatment will also depend upon how bad your constipation is and how long have you been constipated.
Your doctor may suggest over-the-counter medications like laxatives to be taken for a short time. Laxatives are substances that help relieve constipation by loosening the stools or inducing bowel movement. Laxatives are available in a variety of forms (tablet, granules, powder, liquid.) The most common types of laxatives that may provide relief from diabetic constipation are:
- Stool Softeners (soften stools to ease their passage)
- Lubricant laxatives (liquid petrolatum, lubricates the insides of the digestive tract to ease passage of stools)
- Bulk-forming laxatives like flax seeds and Psyllium husk bulk up stools to induce a bowel movement)
- Stimulant laxatives (aloe, cascara, senna, bisacodyl, castor oil)
- Saline laxatives or enemas
- Suppositories (docusate, bisacodyl, sodium phosphate)
Laxatives should be used strictly under medical supervision. Stimulant laxatives may have a negative effect on the colon (large intestine.) They can actually make your constipation worse if taken for a long time. Laxative abuse can also lead to other severe health problems.
Preventing Diabetic Constipation
Simple Lifestyle Changes
Simple dietary practices like increasing your fiber intake, drinking more water and getting some amount of physical exercise daily can help make your stool normal and prevent constipation. Effective management of blood sugar can help prevent neuropathies, which in turn can prevent constipation and other nerve-related health complications.
Avoid eating foods like cheese, chips (and other starchy foods), ice cream, meats and processed foods when you are constipated. These foods have little or no fiber and can make your constipation worse.
You can also try natural supplements like glucomannan, magnesium, turmeric aloe vera gel and vitamin C to regularize your bowel movements and prevent constipation.
Complications of Chronic Constipation
Chronic constipation can cause many complications like
- Hemorrhoids (also called piles)
- Fissure in the anus due to the need to apply pressure to pass stools
- Rectal prolapse (where a small amount of the rectum may turn inside out and come out of the anus)
- Diverticulosis (formation of small & infectious pouches in the muscular wall of the intestines)
- Chronic back pain
- Urinary tract infections
Nerve damage, caused by high blood sugar, can lead to various isslues, including digestive issues like constipation. Lifestyle and dietary changes as well as constant blood sugar management can help treat diabetic constipation and prevent it from becoming a chronic condition.