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.
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.
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.
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.
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.