Dumping Syndrome

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is dumping syndrome?

Dumping syndrome is a condition that results from food passing too quickly—or ‘dumping’—from the stomach into the small intestine. Sugary foods are especially likely to cause dumping syndrome. It is a common complication of gastrectomy, which is surgery to remove part or all of the stomach. It can also occur after bariatric surgery to help you lose weight. Another name for dumping syndrome is rapid gastric emptying.

There are two types of dumping syndrome depending on when symptoms occur:

  • Early dumping syndrome symptoms strike up to 30 minutes after eating. This is the most common form of dumping syndrome, affecting 75% of people with the condition.

  • Late dumping syndrome symptoms appear anywhere from 1 to 3 hours after eating

Some people have either early or late dumping syndrome, but it is possible to suffer from both. With early dumping syndrome, the symptoms are mainly related to digestive upset, such as feeling queasy or having diarrhea. Low blood sugar is the primary cause of late dumping syndrome symptoms, such as sweating or weakness.

Changing the way you eat after surgery can help dumping syndrome. This means eating smaller meals with less sugar. These and other dietary changes are the main dumping syndrome treatment. Contact your doctor promptly if you have symptoms of dumping syndrome. Left untreated, dumping syndrome can lead to an unhealthy rate of weight loss. This can be dangerous even for people who are overweight or obese.

What are the symptoms of dumping syndrome?

The symptoms and signs of dumping syndrome depend on whether you have the early or late form of the condition. The symptoms can also vary from person to person.

Common symptoms of early dumping syndrome

The most common symptoms of early dumping syndrome are:

Common symptoms of late dumping syndrome

The most common symptoms of late dumping syndrome include:

It’s important to contact your doctor right away if you experience symptoms that could be dumping syndrome. Catching the condition early can prevent dangerous weight loss and other complications.

What causes dumping syndrome?

Both types of dumping syndrome are the result of food emptying too quickly from the stomach into the small intestine. In most cases, this is due to changes from stomach surgery—either gastrectomy or bariatric surgery.

Early dumping syndrome occurs when fluid shifts rapidly from the stomach to the small intestine. Sugary foods are common culprits in causing this fluid shift. This includes foods high in table sugar—sucrose—and fruit sugars—fructose. The fluid shift triggers symptoms of digestive upset.

Late dumping syndrome is also related to high amounts of sugar entering the small intestine rapidly. Your body releases large amounts of insulin in response to this sugar dumping. Insulin is a hormone your body uses to convert sugar into energy for your cells. The result is low blood sugar and the symptoms that go along with it.

What are the risk factors for dumping syndrome?

The main risk factor for developing dumping syndrome is surgery that alters the stomach. This includes:

  • Bariatric surgery, which bypasses part of the stomach or reduces the size of the stomach to promote weight loss

  • Esophageal surgery, which can damage nerves that control stomach emptying

  • Gastrectomy, which removes part or all of the stomach usually to treat stomach cancer

Reducing your risk of dumping syndrome

It is not always possible to prevent dumping syndrome after surgery. Talk with your doctor beforehand to learn strategies for lessening or reducing your risk of the problem. If symptoms develop after surgery, contact your doctor as soon as possible to avoid complications.

How is dumping syndrome treated?

Simple dietary changes can help control symptoms. This includes:

  • Avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and very hot or cold foods or drinks

  • Chewing food thoroughly

  • Drinking fluids between meals and avoiding fluids during meals and for 30 minutes before eating

  • Eating more protein and complex carbohydrates, such as oatmeal

  • Eating smaller, more frequent meals

  • Limiting sugary foods and beverages and dairy products containing lactose

  • Using fiber, such as psyllium or pectin, in foods or supplements to delay carbohydrate absorption

  • Working with a registered dietitian to ensure you get adequate vitamins, nutrients and calories

How long does dumping syndrome last, and does it ever go away?

Most cases of dumping syndrome get better within three months. This is especially true for mild cases of early dumping syndrome. If treatment strategies fail to resolve your symptoms, let your doctor know. There are medicines that may help.

For resistant cases of dumping syndrome, doctors may recommend surgery. There are a few techniques surgeons can use to reconstruct the connection between the stomach and small intestine.

What are the potential complications of dumping syndrome?

Dumping syndrome can result in nutritional deficiencies and unhealthy weight loss. When your body is not absorbing food the way it should, you will miss key vitamins and nutrients. This puts you at risk of developing health problems, such as anemia and osteoporosis. It also robs your body of the building blocks it needs to heal and recover.

Similarly, your body can’t get adequate calories when food moves too quickly through your digestive tract. This can result in losing weight at an unhealthy rate. Losing more than 1 to 2 pounds per week is too fast and can be dangerous even for overweight or obese people.

You can avoid both problems by working with your doctor and a registered dietitian. There are strategies that can help you get the vitamins, nutrients and calories you need. Your body needs all three of these dietary components to heal and rebuild tissues after surgery.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 29
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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