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Esophageal distension parameters as potential biomarkers of impaired gastrointestinal function in diabetes patients


Address for Correspondence
Jens Brøndum Frøkjær, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Mech-Sense, Department of Radiology, Aalborg Hospital, Aarhus University Hospital, PO Box 365, DK-9100 Aalborg, Denmark.
Tel: +45 9932 4209; fax: +45 9932 6507; e-mail:


Background  Gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, bloating, postprandial fullness, and abdominal pain, are frequent in patients with diabetes mellitus (DM). The pathogenesis is complex and multi-factorial. To determine easy accessible and valid biomarkers for disordered GI function in DM patients, we aimed to study esophageal mechanical parameters and their relation to symptoms typically arising from the digestive tract.

Methods  Seventeen patients with longstanding DM and GI symptoms and 13 healthy controls were studied using ultrasound monitored esophageal distension. The sensory response was recorded and their symptoms registered. Biomechanical parameters, such as compliance and stiffness were computed from luminal diameters during distension based on the ultrasound images and from pressure data. Biomechanical and sensory parameters were correlated with the clinical data.

Key Results  Diabetes patients had reduced esophageal sensitivity compared with controls (= 0.046). The esophageal compliance was reduced (= 0.004) and the esophageal stiffness was increased (= 0.004) in the diabetes patients. Among patients, both postprandial fullness/early satiety and bloating correlated negatively to the esophageal compliance parameters (all < 0.05).

Conclusions & Inferences  Patients with long-standing DM and GI symptoms had reduced esophageal sensitivity together with reduced compliance and increased stiffness, which were correlated to the patients’ GI symptoms. Biomechanical parameters obtained during distension may serve as biomarker for similar pathophysiologic effects of diabetes in the stomach and small bowel. They may contribute to our understanding of the pathophysiology underlying GI dysfunction and symptoms in patients with longstanding DM.