Can Constipation Be a Symptom of Diabetes?

Constipation—when your bowel movements don't happen as often as they should or are difficult to pass—is a common gastrointestinal symptom of diabetes. Experts estimate that it may affect up to 60% of people with diabetes.

Constipation can arise from high blood sugar levels that lead to nerve damage in the digestive system, a low-fiber diet, lack of exercise, and using certain medications.

This article explores why constipation is a common symptom of diabetes. It also outlines treatment options and provides tips on when to see a healthcare provider.

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What Is Constipation?


Constipation occurs when your bowel movements don’t happen normally. While everyone’s bowel movements are slightly different, constipation is generally defined as experiencing:

  • Fewer than three bowel movements per week 
  • Stool that is dry, hard, or difficult/painful to pass
  • Bloating or discomfort along with bowel movements

Nearly everyone will experience a bout of constipation at some point in their lifetime. It’s commonly caused by factors such as diet, medications, dehydration, stress, changes to routine, travel, and low physical activity levels.

An occasional bout with constipation that resolves itself quickly usually isn’t serious. But when constipation is severe, happens frequently, or results from another medical condition like diabetes, it calls for a visit to your healthcare provider.

Experts recommend seeking emergency medical attention for constipation if you notice signs such as:

  • No bowel movements for more than three days
  • Abdominal pain or bloating that doesn't go away
  • Blood in your stool
  • Nausea, vomiting, or fever

Is Constipation a Symptom of Diabetes?

Constipation is a common symptom of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Older adults, people with certain health conditions, and pregnant people may be more likely than others to experience constipation.

There are several reasons behind constipation in people with diabetes, including: 

  • Diabetic neuropathy: Diabetes-related nerve damage due to high or unmanaged blood sugar levels can impact how food moves through the digestive tract, leading to stomach issues like constipation or diarrhea.
  • Diet and exercise: Not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber, and not getting enough exercise can lead to constipation. These factors may particularly impact people with diabetes who have difficulty managing blood sugar levels and diet or may not have the ability or access to movement and exercise.
  • Medications: Some medications can slow down movement in the digestive system and lead to constipation. This includes certain blood pressure drugs, pain medications, antacids, antihistamines, and antidepressants. It also includes GLP-1 receptor agonists and Glucophage (metformin), both drugs commonly prescribed for managing blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

If you suspect a medication you're taking is contributing to constipation, check with a healthcare provider before stopping a prescription drug on your own.

Constipation Treatments

Constipation can typically be treated with diet and lifestyle changes. It may be relieved with over-the-counter (OTC) treatments or prescription medications in more severe cases.

If you have diabetes, your treatment plan for constipation should include input from a healthcare provider to ensure any changes you make won't negatively impact your overall health or condition.

At-home strategies for constipation relief are usually suggested first. These include:

  • Eating more fiber to prompt regular bowel movements naturally
  • Increasing physical activity to encourage muscles in the intestines to contract
  • Upping hydration levels to keep the digestive system functioning smoothly
  • Blood sugar management to help prevent the diabetes nerve damage that leads to constipation
  • Bowel retraining, or going to the bathroom at the same time daily, to establish a bowel movement routine

If those treatment methods aren't effective, a healthcare provider may recommend OTC or prescription medications, including:

  • Fiber supplements to help stimulate a bowel movement
  • Stool softeners to make the bowel movement easier to pass
  • Osmotic laxatives such as MiraLAX and Generlac (lactulose) help draw water into the colon, resulting in easier-to-pass bowel movements
  • Stimulant laxatives such as Ex-Lax and Dulcolax speed up the movement of intestinal muscles

Certain types of laxatives, such as lactulose, can affect blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. It's important to check with a healthcare provider about the constipation treatment and dosage that is best for you.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

People with diabetes experiencing occasional constipation will want to bring this up to a healthcare provider to receive a formal diagnosis and treatment. But if you have diabetes and your constipation is chronic (lasting for several days or longer), it's a good idea to get medical attention immediately.

In addition, seek emergency medical care if you notice:

  • Severe constipation, or no bowel movements for more than three days
  • Constipation that is sudden or new to you
  • Abdominal pain or bloating that doesn't go away
  • Blood in your stool
  • Nausea, vomiting, or fever
  • Unintended weight loss
  • At-home constipation treatments are not working

Summary

Constipation can be a common sign of diabetes. It's often due to diabetes-related nerve damage in the digestive tract that stems from unmanaged blood sugar levels. Other factors contributing to constipation include diet, exercise, and medications.

With input from a healthcare provider, people with diabetes can typically find constipation relief through lifestyle changes, like changes to diet and physical activity level. OTC or prescription remedies such as laxatives may be used as needed.

A Word From Verywell

While talking about your bowel movements may be embarrassing or uncomfortable, it’s important to bring up any constipation patterns with a healthcare provider—especially if you have an underlying condition like diabetes. Constipation could signify that you need to change your medications or your daily routine. It also can point to more serious issues like uncontrolled blood sugar levels and nerve damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does diabetes cause constipation?

    High or unmanaged blood sugar levels can cause nerve damage in the digestive tract, leading to issues like constipation. In addition, certain medications, diet, and physical activity levels are other factors that can contribute to constipation.

  • How do you treat diabetic constipation?

    Constipation in people with diabetes should be treated with input from a healthcare provider so that both conditions can be addressed and appropriately managed. Making changes to diet and exercise routines can help bring constipation relief. Additional measures usually include OTC or prescription laxatives, if needed.

  • Is constipation a sign of type 2 diabetes?

    Yes, gastrointestinal issues like constipation can occur in both type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It may indicate related nerve damage in the digestive tract due to unmanaged blood sugar levels.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.