Living with diabetes can mean dealing with one complication after another. Some of them are easily avoided or managed with proper blood sugar control. But others may require medication. When it comes to constipation, which is more common in people with diabetes, diet and lifestyle changes may not be enough.
According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and it was the seventh leading cause of death in 2010. And while not all forms of diabetes are preventable — type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease — both type 1 and type 2 can be managed with diet, exercise, and in many cases, the use of medications.
Constipation may occur as a complication of diabetes. Constipation is defined as having fewer than three regular bowel movements each week. It can be unpleasant and even painful. A recent study found that constipation is more common in people with diabetes. According to the study, poor blood sugar control over a long period of time increased the likelihood and frequency of constipation.
Natural solutions for constipation relief involve getting exercise, drinking plenty of water, and eating a fiber-rich diet. But some research indicates that this may not be enough for people with diabetes.
Damage to the nervous system is a known long-term complication of diabetes. According to Mayo Clinic, high blood sugar levels seen in type 1 and 2 diabetes can lead to diabetic neuropathy, or nerve damage. Damage to the nerves controlling the digestive tract can lead to constipation and sometimes alternating bouts of diarrhea.
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 might be taking.
While starting with natural solutions for constipation — like diet, exercise, and hydration — may prove helpful, people with diabetes could find that these solutions do little good if there are bigger underlying problems. Still, 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. Before moving on to laxatives as a potential treatment, consult with your doctor. Progressing through a variety of potential laxative treatments — including osmotic laxatives, stool softeners, bulk-forming laxatives, and lubricants — your doctor may be able to find the least intensive treatment to ease your bowel movements.
In many cases, proper blood sugar management is the best solution for regulating digestion and constipation in diabetics. It prevents nerve damage that can lead to constipation, no matter your diet or activity level.
While you could find your constipation to 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 doesn’t need any medication at all.