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Can Diabetes Cause Diarrhea?

Published on 
June 5, 2024
June 5, 2024
Virta Health
Virta Health
Virta Health

It’s a nauseating fact of life: just like everyone poops, everyone gets diarrhea. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases, acute diarrhea – or diarrhea that goes away on its own after one or two days – happens an estimated 179 million times per year in the United States alone. And no wonder. Diarrhea, after all, is one of our body’s self-defense mechanisms–a way of flushing out the system when a threat like bacterial infection or norovirus invades. 

There is evidence, however, to suggest that people with diabetes may be more likely to experience diarrhea than those without glucose intolerance. Up to 75% of people with diabetes experience gastrointestinal symptoms and loose bowel movements are a common symptom of uncontrolled diabetes. So if you’re wondering ‘can diabetes affect your bowels and give you diarrhea’, the answer is yes. Luckily, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of having diarrhea and diabetes at the same time. Here’s what you need to know.

What causes people with type 2 diabetes to get diarrhea?

Can diabetes cause diarrhea? According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly 22% of people with diabetes have frequent diarrhea. Not all of that diarrhea is necessarily related to their diabetes diagnosis, but for people with diabetes, diarrhea can commonly occur for the following reasons.

  • Diabetic neuropathy: When your blood sugars remain elevated, nerves in your body can be damaged, causing diabetic neuropathy. The symptoms of diabetic neuropathy range widely, but can include diarrhea, leading to problems with your digestive system and how foods and liquid travel through the colon.
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI): This condition occurs when the pancreas fails to produce the requisite number of digestive enzymes, and may be linked to diabetic neuropathy. According to a 2011 study, up to 32% of people with type 2 diabetes experience EPI, which can cause diarrhea.
  • Non-sugar sweeteners: On Virta, we usually recommend that people substitute Virta-approved sweeteners for sugar whenever possible. However, some of these sweeteners can cause diarrhea in some individuals based on their tolerance. Sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol are just a few sweeteners that are known to cause diarrhea when consumed in excess.
  • Medications: Some diabetes medicines, like metformin, can have diarrhea as a side effect, as can some GLP-1s. Up to 10 percent of people who take metformin can experience large bowel dysfunction, which includes diarrhea, constipation, and incontinence as symptoms.

Tips for Diabetes Diarrhea

If you’re experiencing unexplained diarrhea and have diabetes, we recommend first paying closer attention to the sweeteners you are consuming. Many sweeteners can cause diarrhea if you go overboard, so try cutting down and seeing if that has a positive effect. You can also try substitution. Erythritol and allulose typically do not have the same gastrointestinal side effects as sweeteners like xylitol, sorbitol, and mannitol.

In addition, if you’re experiencing diarrhea while on a diabetes medication like metformin, consult your doctor. Sometimes, a dose adjustment is all that is required to reduce or eliminate diarrhea as a symptom.

Otherwise, if you are experiencing diarrhea and have diabetes, we recommend consulting with a doctor or medical professional–especially if you have experienced diarrhea for more than two days without improvement.

The Takeaway

Diarrhea happens to everyone, but if you have diabetes, you should be mindful that sweeteners and diabetes medications can sometimes exacerbate the problem. 

If you would like help living a healthier lifestyle while navigating your diabetes diagnosis, Virta Health may be able to help. By making healthy lifestyle changes in a medical setting with supportive resources like 1:1 virtual coaching, you can regain control of your health and feel like yourself again. See if you’re eligible for Virta Health here.

This blog is intended for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or any advice relating to your health. View full disclaimer

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