How Fast Does Your Stomach Empty? Hypoglycemia Speeds It Up

It may not be your fault if your blood sugar levels are unpredictable. Recent studies have shown that during hypoglycemic episodes, food exits the stomach much more quickly than it does under normal circumstances.

A report published in the November 1995 issue of Diabetes Care details a study conducted in Sweden. The stomachs of people experiencing hypoglycemia emptied three times faster than those of people with normal glycemic levels. Such rapid emptying leaves insulin dosages working on minimal amounts of glucose since the stomach barely has time to digest the food. This can worsen hypoglycemia, causing a vicious cycle. Because the emptying rate may not be consistent, people with diabetes can find themselves in a constant battle for control despite regular monitoring.

The Swedish study reports that the stomach of a person experiencing hypoglycemia empties 50% of liquid in an average of 8.1 minutes, compared with 24.9 minutes during normoglycemia. The emptying of solids for people with hypoglycemia takes 26.8 minutes, versus 43.1 minutes for those with normal glycemic levels.

The researchers decided to test atropine, which has been shown to slow stomach emptying in normo-glycemic patients. They found that during hypoglycemia, atropine infusion tended to cause the stomach to empty even more slowly than during normoglycemia.

Although the phenomenon is not completely understood, it is thought that the accelerated emptying rate is a result of increased nerve stimulation during hypoglycemic episodes.

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