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Signs, Symptoms and Causes of Diarrhea in People With Diabetes

Signs, Symptoms and Causes of Diarrhea in People With Diabetes

Studies show that 22 percent of people who have diabetes usually experience symptoms of diarrhea (diarrhoea). Diabetes is a chronic condition where the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin or use it properly. Insulin is a natural hormone produced by the beta cells in the pancreas. When you eat foods that are rich in carbohydrates, glucose will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Glucose is a form of sugar which is one of the main sources of fuel for the body. Insulin is a hormone that helps glucose get into the body cells. People with diabetes experience high blood sugar levels because they lack insulin. If left untreated, high blood sugar can lead to life threatening conditions such as nerve damage and kidney problems. There are two types of diabetes, i.e. type 1 (T1D) and type 2 diabetes (T2D). T1D occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the beta cells in the pancreas. As a result, people with T1D produce little or no insulin, which leads to high blood sugar levels. T2D occurs when the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin or when the body becomes resistant to insulin. People with T1D and T2D may experience the same signs and symptoms, including diarrhea. As a result, people with diabetes may pass excess loose stool during the night. Coping with diabetes can be challenging, but it can be more difficult if you have diabetes and diarrhoea.

Diabetes and diarrhea

Most people do not know that a symptom of diabetes is diarrhea. Diarrhea can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they have diabetes or not. Diarrhea refers to a medical condition characterized by watery or loose stool. On average, most people experience diarrhoea twice every year. However, it only lasts for 2 to 3 days and can be treated using over-the-counter drugs. If you have diarrhoea, it is important you drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. Diarrhoea that occurs in people with diabetes sometimes occurs as a result of nerve damage which disrupts bowel movements. However, it is not yet determined what really causes diarrhoea in patients with diabetes. In case you are experiencing persistent diarrhoea, you may need to go and see your doctor. Your doctor will check the history of your health as well as your blood glucose levels. Before you begin taking new diabetes drugs, your doctor may want to check that you don’t have any gastrointestinal problems. Diarrhea in people with diabetes can be managed through lifestyle changes like stress reduction or using drugs as needed.

Causes of diarrhea in people with diabetes

People who have T1D have a higher risk of having persistent diarrhea. This usually happens in type 1 diabetic people who cannot properly control their blood sugar level through treatment. Although it is not yet established what causes diarrhoea in people with diabetes, scientists believe that it is a result of neuropathy. Neuropathy is a condition in which nerves start to malfunction. People with diabetes can experience high blood sugar levels that can damage their nerves. Diarrhoea can also happen as a result of taking some medications, such as metformin. Metformin is an oral diabetes medication that is taken by people with T2D to help them control their blood glucose levels. People who use this medication to treat T2D may experience different side effects, including diarrhoea. If you have a disease, such as Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease, you are at a risk of experiencing diarrhoea. Also, drinking too much alcohol, or consuming foods with sorbitol can cause diarrhoea in people with diabetes. Sorbitol is normally used as a sweetener in some foods eaten by diabetics. If there is an imbalance in the nervous system which works by regulating the functions of the gastrointestinal system, diarrhoea may occur.

If diarrhoea persists, it may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms such as:

  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blood in stool


If you have diabetes and are suffering from diarrhea, you may need to check your blood glucose levels after every 4 hours. Your doctor may require you to test your ketones if your blood glucose level is above 240 mg/dL or if you have T1D. In case you find ketones in your urine, you should call your doctor immediately. Depending on how severe your diarrhoea is, you may need to visit an emergency room. If you have type 2 diabetes and diarrhoea, you may need to stop taking medications by mouth. Ask your doctor what you should do instead. The treatment for diarrhoea in people with diabetes may vary. However, you may be prescribed with Lomotil or Imodium to help reduce future occurrence of diarrhoea. In addition to taking medication, your doctor may advise you to change your diet. Eating foods that are rich in fiber can help reduce your symptoms of diarrhoea. In case your test results show an overgrowth in your gastrointestinal system, you may need to take antibiotics.


Disclaimer: Please note that the contents of this community article are strictly for informational purposes and should not be considered as medical advice. This article, and other community articles, are not written or reviewed for medical validity by Canadian Insulin or its staff. All views and opinions expressed by the contributing authors are not endorsed by Canadian Insulin. Always consult a medical professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.
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