Dumping Syndrome – What Is It, and How Serious Can It Be?

If you’ve recently undergone any sort of gastric surgery, you should know everything about the dumping syndrome. So what is it? Commonly referred to as rapid gastric emptying, it occurs when food passes through your gastrointestinal system too quickly. More specifically, it goes from the stomach to the duodenum in an unusually short period of time.

This happens with most foods but is most prominent with sugar-rich foods. So how serious is it and is there something you can do about it? Read on to find answers to these questions.

What Causes It?

Gastric surgery is a direct cause of dumping syndrome. Moreover, any kind of surgery that alters the way food passes through the stomach can lead to this issue. Here are the most common types of surgery that can cause this:

Gastric Bypass (Roux-en-Y)

Used as a weight loss solution, gastric bypass surgery is a procedure that reduces one’s stomach to effectively a small pouch. It’s then connected to the small intestine, a measure that prevents one from overeating. The swallowed food enters the pouch-size stomach and travels directly to your small intestine, thereby bypassing a large part of your stomach and the first portion of your small intestine.

This is a common procedure that is needed in case diets and exercise couldn’t help an obese person to lose weight. It could be a necessary procedure if excess weight poses a major health risk.

Gastrectomy

Gastrectomy is another common cause of dumping syndrome. What is it? It’s a procedure where parts or all of your stomach is removed to treat a serious health issue. This includes esophageal cancer, non-cancerous tumors, and obesity that has reached a life-threatening point.

The main types of gastrectomy are:

  • Partial gastrectomy – Involves the removal of a part of one’s stomach (usually the lower half).
  • Total gastrectomy – A procedure to remove one’s entire stomach.
  • Sleeve gastrectomy – Often a part of weight loss surgery, this procedure involves the removal of the left side of one’s stomach.

Contrary to popular belief, you can still have a functioning digestive system even if your entire stomach is removed. You won’t lose your ability to digest foods and liquids, but of course, it will be impaired. The level of impairment can vary according to the type of gastrectomy, but in most cases some lifestyle changes are enough to ensure a functioning digestive system.

Open Esophagectomy

Part of the digestive system, the esophagus is in charge of transporting food to the stomach. Open esophagectomy involves the removal of a part of the esophagus. It is used to treat life-threatening conditions such as esophageal cancer, severe damage to the stomach, or achalasia.

This is a very serious procedure that can significantly alter a person’s lifestyle. Among these changes are the ones related to food digestion.

Now that you know the main causes of dumping syndrome, it’s time to learn how to recognize it.

Symptoms of Dumping Syndrome

Dumping syndrome is divided into early and late. The difference is in the time it takes for one to notice the symptoms after a meal. Early dumping syndrome often occurs right after eating, but it can also be 10-30 minutes after a meal. The symptoms include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Uncomfortable fullness or bloating after a meal

Late symptoms usually occur one to three hours after a meal. Hypoglycemia is the main cause of these symptoms, which include:

  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Hunger
  • Shaking or tremors

The early and late symptoms aren’t mutually exclusive, so a patient can have both of them. Even though they can be quite uncomfortable and scary, they’re not life-threatening and should subside with time.

Diagnosis

If you notice any of the above symptoms after a gastric surgery, visit a doctor for a follow-up. There are three main methods that doctors use to see whether you’re suffering from dumping syndrome:

  • Medical history – If you’ve had gastric surgery, your doctor will ask you about the reasons for it, any relevant health conditions, and the outcome. They will then assess your symptoms to see whether they fit the disease.
  • Blood sugar test – As mentioned, dumping syndrome is often related to hypoglycemia. This is why the doctor might measure the patient’s blood sugar levels at the peak of the symptoms.
  • Gastric Emptying Scan (GES) – During this exam, the patient eats a meal that contains a radioactive substance under the control of a radiologist. They’ll then scan the stomach to track the pass-through speed of the radioactive material.

Treatment Options

Most cases of dumping syndrome don’t require any medical attention. They usually go away on their own, and a couple of dietary changes can help ease them. Here are some changes that you can make:

  • Including more fiber in your diet
  • Avoiding sugary foods and drinks
  • Not drinking any fluids 30 minutes prior and after a meal
  • Eating a couple of smaller meals instead of a few large ones
  • Chewing your food fully before you swallow it

You might also want to discuss taking supplements with your doctor. There’s a chance that your body will have a harder time absorbing the nutrients from food, so supplements might be a good idea.

If dietary changes don’t yield results, your doctor might give you some medications. These might some anti-diarrheal drugs, which can help with other symptoms as well.

If all else fails, surgery might be needed. This is reserved for the most severe cases and usually involves a reconstructive surgery, such as pyloric reconstruction.

The Final Word

Most cases of dumping syndrome are nothing to worry about. This is just a normal aftermath of gastric surgery which shouldn’t cause any further issues.

However, if it persists, you should consult your doctor, as there are other complications associated with gastric surgery that you might want to rule out. If the symptoms don’t subside after dietary changes, make sure to discuss other options with your doctor.

References:

https://www.britannica.com/science/duodenum
https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/gastric-bypass-surgery/about/pac-20385189
https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gastrectomy/
https://www.webmd.com/digestive-disorders/picture-of-the-esophagus
https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/surgery/esophagectomy-open
https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/achalasia/
http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/treatment-and-care/blood-glucose-control/hypoglycemia-low-blood.html
https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/443053
https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/471952_5

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