Current concepts in diabetic gastroparesis

Drugs. 2003;63(13):1339-58. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200363130-00002.


Diabetic gastroparesis is a common and debilitating condition affecting millions of patients with diabetes mellitus worldwide. Although gastroparesis in diabetes has been known clinically for more than 50 years, treatment options remain very limited. Until recently, the scientific literature has offered few clues regarding the precise aetiology of gastric dysfunction in diabetes.Up to 50% of patients with diabetes may experience postprandial abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and bloating secondary to gastric dysfunction. There is no clear association between length of disease and the onset of delayed gastric emptying. Gastroparesis affects both type 1 (insulin dependent) and type 2 (non- insulin dependent) forms of diabetes. Diagnosis requires identifying the proper symptom complex, while excluding other entities (peptic ulcer disease, rheumatological diseases, medication effects). The diagnosis of gastroparesis may be confirmed by demonstrating gastric emptying delay during a 4-hour scintigraphic study. Treatment options are limited and rely on dietary modifications, judicious use of available pharmacological agents, and occasionally surgical or endoscopic placement of gastrostomies or jejunostomies. Gastric pacing offers promise for patients with medically refractory gastroparesis but awaits further investigation. Current pharmacological agents for treating gastroparesis include metoclopramide, erythromycin, cisapride (only available via a company-sponsored programme) and domperidone (not US FDA approved). All of these drugs act as promotility agents that increase the number or the intensity of gastric contractions. These medications are not uniformly effective and all have adverse effects that limit their use. Cisapride has been removed from the open market as a result of over 200 reported cases of cardiac toxicity attributed to its use. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of clinical studies that clearly define the efficacy of these agents in diabetic gastroparesis and there are no studies that compare these drugs to each other. The molecular pathophysiology of diabetic gastroparesis is unknown, limiting the development of rational therapies. New studies, primarily in animals, point to a defect in the enteric nervous system as a major molecular cause of abnormal gastric motility in diabetes. This defect is characterised by a loss of nitric oxide signals from nerves to muscles in the gut resulting in delayed gastric emptying. Novel therapies designed to augment nitric oxide signalling are being studied.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes Complications*
  • Drugs, Investigational / therapeutic use
  • Gastrointestinal Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Gastroparesis* / diagnosis
  • Gastroparesis* / etiology
  • Gastroparesis* / therapy
  • Humans


  • Drugs, Investigational
  • Gastrointestinal Agents