Diarrhea is a common diabetes symptom. There are several causes of diabetes-related diarrhea, including metformin, a diabetes medication. Diabetes-related autonomic neuropathy, nerve damage caused by diabetes, is another cause. You can treat diabetes-related diarrhea with diarrhea medications and by controlling your blood sugar.
Diabetes can cause diarrhea, along with several other gastrointestinal (digestive) problems. Diarrhea is a common symptom of diabetes. It’s more common in people who have had diabetes for a long time.
Sometimes, people with diabetes-related diarrhea also experience fecal (bowel) incontinence, especially at night. That’s because nerve damage (neuropathy) due to diabetes affects the anal sphincter. The anal sphincter is the muscle that opens and closes to allow poop to exit your body.
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Diabetes mellitus is a condition that happens when your body can’t produce or use the hormone insulin. Insulin allows blood sugar (glucose) into your cells so your body can use it as energy. If you have diabetes, your cells don’t respond to insulin as they should. Your cells don’t absorb the glucose, so the sugar builds up in your blood.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Both can have similar symptoms and complications.
Diarrhea is when your poop is not solid, formed stool. Instead, it comes out loose and watery. Healthcare providers consider it diarrhea when it happens at least three times a day.
Diabetes-related enteropathy is a specific type of nerve damage. It affects the digestive system. Many people with diabetes-related enteropathy have diarrhea, constipation and fecal incontinence.
It is common. About 22% of people with diabetes (around 1 in 5 people) may have frequent diarrhea.
People with diabetes may experience frequent diarrhea due to:
Other possible causes of diabetes-related diarrhea:
You might have ongoing diarrhea. Or you might have diarrhea for a few months, and then it goes away. You might also experience diarrhea alternating with constipation.
It’s challenging to figure out if diarrhea you experience is due to diabetes or another condition. Your healthcare provider may ask you to keep a journal to keep track of your bowel movements, including frequency and severity.
You may need to work with a gastroenterologist, a specialist in the digestive system.
The most important part of treating diabetes-related diarrhea is to control your blood sugar. Controlling blood sugar can prevent nerve damage and improve your symptoms. A nutritionist can help you develop the best meal plan to improve your symptoms. You may need to:
Your healthcare provider may recommend diarrhea treatments. Antidiarrheal medications can help stop episodes of diarrhea. Medicines that help people with or without diabetes include:
If those medications don’t help, your provider may recommend medications targeted to people with diabetes. These medicines help improve the nerve damage that is the primary cause of diabetes-related diarrhea:
Often, people who have diabetes have digestive problems. But you can take steps to keep these problems to a minimum:
See your healthcare provider if you have diabetes and you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
All too often, diabetes and diarrhea go together. People with diabetes may experience frequent diarrhea — loose, watery stools that happen at least three times a day. You may have fecal incontinence as well, especially at night. Diarrhea can also be due to metformin, a diabetes medication. If you have diarrhea, an upset stomach or constipation, talk to your healthcare provider. Medications and the right diet plan can relieve diarrhea, so you feel your best.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/25/2022.
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