About 60% of all people with diabetes suffer from constipation. It is a common gastrointestinal problem in diabetes mellitus patients. While inadequate fiber intake is often responsible for this condition, in case of people with advanced or untreated diabetes, constipation is primarily a sign of poor gastrointestinal motility.
Usually dietary measures that help in treating constipation also help in preventing abnormal rise in the blood sugar level. Moreover, maintaining the blood sugar level close to the normal range reduces the risk of diabetes-related constipation and other gastrointestinal complications.
Causes For Diabetes and Constipation
Constipation in diabetics is primarily a symptom of diabetic gastrointestinal autonomic neuropathy. Autonomic neuropathy develops when the autonomic nervous system is damaged by diabetes.
The autonomic nervous system consists of nerves that control the functions of the body’s internal organs such as the stomach, intestines, heart, bladder and genitals. Chronic constipation develops when the nerves that regulate movement of the muscles of the large intestine are damaged by diabetes, resulting in reduced motility of the lower gut.
Complications For Diabetes and Constipation
Constipation, if left untreated, can lead to serious complications such as fecal impaction and colonic perforation. If you do not pass stool for a long time, the stool becomes dry and hard.
Fecal impaction occurs when a large hard lump of stool blocks the rectum. As the muscles of the large intestine cannot move the feces, it worsens constipation. Colonic perforation is a severe complication of fecal impaction, which requires emergency medical treatment.
Treatment For Diabetes and Constipation
Constipation in diabetics is treated with fiber supplements and mild laxatives. Fibers add bulk to the stool. Fiber supplements, especially psyllium husk, should be taken with sufficient water to soften the stool and ease defecation.
In case of fecal impaction that cannot be treated with fiber supplements, a laxative enema is usually recommended for softening the stool. Manual procedures are often applied to break the hardened stool.
Alternative therapies such as acupressure, acupuncture and massage therapies can help in improving bowel movement in people with diabetes. They work by improving the relaxation capacity of the muscles of the large intestine.
Biofeedback is also beneficial for diabetics suffering from constipation. Through biofeedback training a person learns how to contract and relax the ano-rectal muscles to improve bowel movement.
Prevention For Diabetes and Constipation
Constipation in diabetics can be easily prevented by increasing intake of fiber rich foods. As dietary fiber is found in carbohydrate foods, carbohydrate-restricted diets tend to reduce the fiber content in the diet of many people with diabetes. However, fiber cannot be digested. Hence, consuming dietary fiber will not affect your calorie intake.
Moreover, fiber by slowing down digestion helps in curbing hunger and prevents abnormal increase in the blood sugar level. Studies suggest that diabetics who eat sufficient amount of fiber daily can easily keep their blood sugar level under control. Hence, dietary fiber helps in fighting constipation as well as diabetes. Diabetics should eat about 25 to 35 grams of fiber daily by adding whole grain products and fiber rich fruits and vegetables to their daily diet.