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Diabetes and Constipation: What’s the Connection?

Overview

Constipation is a common complication in people with diabetes. Living with diabetes means paying careful attention to all systems of your body. Some complications of diabetes are easily avoided or managed with proper blood sugar control. Depending on the type of diabetes, medication may be required to manage blood sugars and to protect the heart, kidney, brain, and other organs affected by diabetes.

When it comes to managing constipation, though, diet and lifestyle changes may not be enough. Here’s what to know about why is occurs more often in people with diabetes and what you can do about it.

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Constipation

How common is constipation?

Constipation can be defined as having fewer than three regular bowel movements each week. It can also be defined as unsatisfactory bowel movements with stools that are infrequent and difficult to pass. It can be unpleasant and even painful.

A recent study found that constipation is more common in people with diabetes. It’s estimated that around 60 percent of people with long-standing diabetes deal with constipation.

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Causes

What causes diabetes constipation?

Damage to the nervous system is a known long-term complication of diabetes. High blood sugar levels from type 1 and type 2 diabetes can lead to diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage. Damage to the nerves controlling the digestive tract can lead to constipation, diarrhea, and incontinence.

Poor blood sugar control over a long period of time may increase the likelihood and frequency of constipation.

In addition to lifestyle choices and neuropathy, people with diabetes sometimes take medications that can slow gut mobility and cause constipation. Talk to your doctor about the side effects of any medications you take.

Read more: 6 natural constipation remedies »

Daily diabetes tip
  • If you feel stopped up from time to time, you’re not alone. Recent research indicates that constipation is common in people with diabetes. Find relief by starting with natural solutions: Eat more fiber, drink more water, and increase your physical activity. If you don’t notice improvement, talk with your doctor about moving on to fiber supplements, stool softeners, or laxatives.
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Treatment

Treating constipation

Natural options

Simple solutions are the best place to start. Try increasing your fiber intake, drinking more water, and getting more regular physical activity. All of these can help the digestive system function more smoothly.

While starting with natural solutions for constipation may prove helpful, people with diabetes could find that these solutions do little good if there are bigger underlying problems.

Laxatives

Laxatives may also provide relief, but you should use them carefully. Before moving on to laxatives as a potential treatment, consult with your doctor. Some laxatives are not intended for long-term use.

Your doctor may be able to find the least intensive treatment to ease your bowel movements. They may have you try:

  • osmotic laxatives
  • stool softeners
  • bulk-forming laxatives
  • lubricants

Read more: 5 homemade laxative recipes »

Blood sugar management

In many cases, proper blood sugar management is the best solution for regulating digestion and constipation in diabetes. It prevents nerve damage that can lead to constipation, no matter your diet or activity level.

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Takeaway

The takeaway

While constipation can be a sign of poor long-term diabetes management, it could also be due to something as simple as not getting enough fiber. By moving from the simplest to the most intensive solutions with the help of your doctor, you may find that your constipation can be managed with lifestyle changes and without the need for medication.

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