Background: Gastrointestinal (GI) tract symptoms are common among patients with diabetes mellitus (DM) seen in tertiary care centers. The degree to which this reflects referral bias is unclear.
Objectives: To determine whether GI tract symptoms are more prevalent in unselected patients with DM from the general community compared with their age- and sex-matched counterparts without DM and to assess the association of GI tract symptoms in persons with DM with psychosomatic symptoms, medication use, and symptoms of autonomic neuropathy.
Methods: In this population-based, cross-sectional study, Olmsted County, Minnesota, residents with type 1 DM, a random sample of residents with type 2 DM, and 2 age- and sex-stratified random samples of nondiabetic residents (total of 1262 person for the 4 groups) were mailed a previously validated symptom questionnaire.
Results: Heartburn was less common in residents with type 1 DM vs controls (12% vs 23%; P<.05). No significant difference in prevalence was detected (residents with type 1 DM vs controls; residents with type 2 DM vs controls) for nausea or vomiting (12% vs 11%; 6% vs 6%), dyspepsia (19% vs 21%; 13% vs 17%), or constipation (17% vs 14%; 10% vs 12%). However, constipation and/or laxative use was slightly more common in residents with type 1 DM (27% vs 19%; P<.15), particularly in men, and was associated with the intake of calcium channel blockers.
Conclusions: In the community, the prevalence of most GI tract symptoms is similar in persons with or without DM, except for a lower prevalence of heartburn and an increased prevalence of constipation or laxative use in residents with type 1 DM, especially in men. This difference is associated with calcium channel blocker use rather than symptoms of autonomic neuropathy. In community-based practices, physicians should not immediately assume that GI tract symptoms in patients with DM represent a complication of DM.