How can diabetes cause nausea?

Nausea is a common complaint among people living with diabetes. Nausea can occur as a result of diabetes complications or other factors relating to the condition.

In most cases, nausea is temporary and harmless. However, alongside other symptoms, it can indicate a more serious complication of diabetes.

In this article, we look at the causes of nausea in people with diabetes and explain how to relieve this symptom.

Causes

Nausea is a common symptom that everyone experiences at some point. It is a general symptom of many problems, including food allergies, migraine, overeating, a stomach bug, and anxiety.

People with diabetes may also experience diabetes-related nausea. In the next sections, we discuss the possible causes of nausea in people with diabetes.

High or low blood sugar levels

Man with hangover, nausea, headache or migraine holding head in pain and glass of water.
HIgh or low blood sugar levels can cause nausea.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes involve problems with insulin and the levels of glucose in the blood, which can lead to two events:

Hyperglycemia occurs when the body has too little insulin, for example, when a person eats more or exercises less than they had planned. It can also happen in the morning, which is known as the dawn phenomenon. Learn more about high blood sugar in the morning.

Hypoglycemia can occur when a person takes too much insulin or does not eat enough food. It can lead to serious complications, including insulin shock.

Both hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia can make a person feel nauseated.

Other symptoms to look out for include:

  • disorientation
  • weakness
  • vision problems
  • fainting
  • seizures

Without treatment, people with diabetes will go through repeat events of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia. Over time, this can result in health complications, such as insulin shock, diabetic ketoacidosis, and diabetic neuropathy.

People can usually prevent these complications by managing their diabetes.

A person can avoid hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia by:

  • eating regular meals and snacks
  • taking medications according to the prescription
  • adjusting food and medication intake when increasing activity levels

A side effect of medication

Like other medications, some diabetes drugs can cause nausea as a side effect.

These include the common medication metformin, which people should take with food to avoid or reduce nausea.

A person may experience nausea when they start taking injectable medications, but this symptom often goes away once they become used to the injections. If it does not, it is worth talking to the doctor about possibly adjusting the dosage.

Gastroparesis

Woman eating small soup meal outdoors
Eating frequent small meals can relieve the symptoms of gastroparesis.

Diabetes is a common cause of a digestive disorder called gastroparesis.

Gastroparesis affects how the stomach contracts, meaning that food passes more slowly into the intestine.

In addition to nausea, gastroparesis can cause:

  • bloating
  • heartburn
  • satiety after just a small meal
  • a loss of appetite
  • fluctuations in blood sugar levels
  • pain in the upper abdomen

There is no cure for gastroparesis, but people can relieve the symptoms by:

  • eating frequent small meals instead of three large meals a day
  • reducing dietary fiber by limiting the intake of fibrous fruits and uncooked vegetables
  • drinking water during and between meals
  • avoiding lying down for several hours after eating
  • walking around or exercising after meals

People with gastroparesis and diabetes may wish to speak to their doctor about adjusting their insulin dosage and timings.

Pancreatitis

Pancreatitis occurs when the pancreas becomes swollen and inflamed. People living with diabetes have a higher risk of developing pancreatitis.

In addition to nausea, pancreatitis can cause:

  • pain in the abdomen
  • high triglyceride levels
  • vomiting

A person may be able to prevent or manage pancreatitis by eating a low-fat diet. Quitting smoking and avoiding drinking alcohol can also help reduce the risk of this condition.

Diabetic ketoacidosis

Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when blood sugar levels become very high, and ketones build up to dangerous levels in the blood. It can be life-threatening and is a medical emergency.

One common symptom of diabetic ketoacidosis is severe nausea.

The other symptoms of this condition include:

  • urinating more frequently
  • feeling more thirsty than usual
  • experiencing pain in the abdomen
  • feeling confused
  • having difficulty taking deep breaths
  • feeling fatigued
  • experiencing muscle weakness
  • having fruity-smelling breath

If a person experiences one or more of these symptoms, they should seek medical attention immediately.


Prevention

A doctor can advise on how to take medication properly to reduce the risk of nausea.
A doctor can advise on how to take medication properly to reduce the risk of nausea.

Diabetes may increase a person’s risk of feeling nauseated because diabetes-related complications, such as hyperglycemia, can cause nausea.

People can take the following steps to help prevent or reduce their risk of developing complications that can lead to nausea:

  • taking medication exactly as a doctor has prescribed
  • avoiding skipping meals
  • abstaining from alcohol
  • quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • eating a varied, well-balanced diet
  • following a meal plan that a healthcare professional helped create

Home remedies

Treating nausea at home often involves taking over-the-counter medications that target nausea symptoms. A person may also try alternative methods, such as eating ginger root.

The following steps can also reduce nausea:

  • increasing the amount of protein in meals
  • staying hydrated
  • exercising
  • staying upright immediately after eating
  • avoiding strong smells

Read about 17 home remedies for nausea here.

In addition, a person should speak to a doctor about their symptoms. The doctor may be able to adjust their medications or recommend other lifestyle changes to help prevent nausea.


Outlook

People with diabetes may experience nausea as a result of many causes, including gastroparesis, certain medications, and diabetes-related complications, such as high or low blood sugar levels.

When additional symptoms occur, a person should speak to a doctor, who may be able to prescribe medications or recommend lifestyle changes to reduce symptoms.

People can prevent diabetes-related complications by managing the condition.

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