Diabetes and Diarrhea: Is Diarrhea a Sign of Diabetes? Or Vice Versa

When we say diarrhoea, the common notion that arises at once is embarrassment. People seldom talk about it and the disease remains in the confines of the person who suffers from it. Nevertheless, not many know that millions of people die every year of diarrhoea only because it goes un-diagnosed. More so, numerous reports have been there talking about its connection with diabetes. Diarrhoea is both a symptom and a side effect of diabetes. See how it affects the body in both the cases.

Diarrhoea as a Symptom of Diabetes

All of us suffer from diarrhoea at some or the other point in life. However, the problem arises when these fecal incontinences are frequent and prevail all the time. When the body senses lack of hydration, the pituitary gland in it releases a hormone called “vasopressin”. Vasopressin is responsible for retention of water in the body. And so, the hormone can trigger liver to produce more sugar resulting in elevated blood sugar levels, and hence diabetes.

Diabetes and Diarrhea

Diarrhoea as a Side Effect of Diabetes

Diabetes can occur either when the body is unable to produce enough insulin or when it is unable to use the produced insulin properly. Lack of insulin inhibits the absorption of sugar in the blood giving rise to blood sugar level and hence, diabetes. Recurrent cycles of loose and liquidy stools in an involuntary flux are not uncommon in diabetes. Researches say that nearly 22% of the diabetics experience repeated diarrhoea. Though the exact cause for this is still to unfold, following factors suggest what can be the possible prompts of diarrhoea in persons with diabetes.

1. Autonomic Neuropathy

Autonomic neuropathy starts to crop up when the nerves controlling involuntary functions of the body are damaged. This obstructs the path of signals travelling from brain to sensory organs and vice versa. Neuropathy is the reaction of this nerve damage which can be pains, weakness or even numbness mostly in hands and feet.

Diabetes is one of the biggest triggers of autonomic neuropathy but obvious. Due to disturbances in blood sugar levels, excess glucose starts depositing in the bloodstream blocking signals to brain and thus, causes nerve failure. Now, as the signals are not able to reach the organs from brain for prolonged periods, the organs starts disfunctioning. Herein when the digestive tract experiences dysfunction, the difficulty in digesting food can result in several problems like constipation, abdominal cramps, vomiting, heartburn and diarrhoea.

2. Sorbitol

Sorbitol is a naturally-occurring crystalline compound often used as a sweetening agent in candies, sugar alcohol, flavoured drinks, diet syrups and bakery mixes. It is also found in fruits like plums, berries, cherries, seaweed and pears.

Due to its natural sweetening properties, Sorbitol is commonly used as a substitute of sugar for persons with lactose-fructose resistance and diabetes. An amount as small as 10 grams of this natural sugar proves to be an effective laxative. And so, large doses taken during diabetes can profoundly profuse diarrhoea.

3. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Approximately 50% of the problems of diabetic diarrhoea are due to SIBO. To understand how, see below.

The digestive system of a human body comprises of a muscular tube that travels all the way from the neck all the way to the large intestine, also called as colon. However, the three major organs – small intestine, stomach and large intestine are mainly responsible for digesting food. In here, the small intestine acts as a connecting link between stomach and large intestine. As the food enters the stomach, it is then passed to small intestine and then to large intestine. Now, both small and large intestines are composed of certain bacteria useful for digestion. While small intestine contains lesser bacteria, the large intestine is filled with large quantities of a different kind of bacteria. SIBO occurs when small intestine experiences huge amounts of bacteria than large intestine resulting in digestive disorders like constipation or diarrhoea.

This can also be caused by pancreatic insufficiency.

4. Problems in Enteric Nervous System (ENS)

ENS is a part of nervous system, a network of nerves that takes care of the functioning of gastrointestinal tract. So, nerve damage in ENS as mentioned in point 1 can also lead to diarrhoea.

Diagnosing Diarrhoea

From children to adults, diarrhoea is a common problem. So, to conclude that it is related to diabetes, following signs can be considered as an indication to diabetic diarrhoea.

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, i.e. combination of constipation and diarrhoea.
  2. Symptoms of dehydration.
  3. Abdominal bloating, muscular cramps, nausea or vomiting.
  4. Too less platelets (anaemia) or too many platelets.
  5. Churning gut or problem with thyroid.
  6. Frequent colds, flu or jammed nose indicating weak immune system.
  7. Celiac disease, a disease in which the small intestines is hypersensitive to gluten, an elastic protein complex usually found in wheat flour.
  8. Liver dysfunction or improper absorption of nutrients like calcium, vitamins, salts or minerals.

Treatment of Diarrhoea

Treatment for diarrhoea varies with the cause. However, there are some standard treatments that can relieve the painful condition, even in diabetics. They are as under.

1. Rehydration

To make up the fluids released, it is recommended to drink plenty of non-sugary fluids like water, isabgol and vegetable soups.

2. Antibiotics

If the diarrhoea has been caused due to SIBO, doctors may provide antibiotics to inhibit bacterial growth in small intestine.

3. Changes in diet patterns

Correcting diet can be highly effective not just in diarrhoea but in diabetes too. It is generally advised to include high fibres, whole grains, potatoes, bananas and pulses in meals to eliminate symptoms of diabetic diarrhoea. Foods that are fried, oily, sugary or greasy should be avoided.

The bottom line is to design a lifestyle that maintains the normal blood sugar level in your body. This includes diet, exercise and of course, how you think and feel.

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