After an operation to remove all or part of the stomach or oesophagus, food can travel more quickly through the digestive system. This can cause symptoms called dumping syndrome.

What is dumping syndrome?

The stomach normally stores food and releases it into the bowel in a controlled way. After an operation to remove all or part of the stomach or oesophagus, food can travel more quickly through the digestive system. This can cause symptoms called dumping syndrome.

There are two types of dumping syndrome. These are:

  • early dumping syndrome
  • late dumping syndrome.

Late dumping syndrome is more common after an oesophagectomy.

Early dumping syndrome

This can happen within 30 minutes of eating a meal. You may:

  • feel dizzy and faint
  • your heart might beat faster.

These symptoms may last for about 10 to 15 minutes. You may also have:

  • tummy cramps
  • diarrhoea.

The symptoms happen when food enters the bowel more quickly. This draws fluid into the bowel from the surrounding organs and tissues, which causes your blood pressure to drop.

Many people find early dumping syndrome gets better on its own in time. After a few months, symptoms can get less severe and happen less often.

 

Late dumping syndrome

This usually happens a few hours after eating a meal, or when you have missed a meal. You may suddenly feel:

  • faint
  • sick
  • shaky.

The problem is caused by low blood sugar levels. If you feel the symptoms starting, you could try taking glucose tablets or eating a sugary snack.

Controlling early or late dumping syndrome

For most people, the symptoms of dumping syndrome slowly reduce over time. Tell your cancer doctor or dietitian if the symptoms do not stop. If your symptoms continue or are severe, your cancer doctor may give you medicine to help.

You can help prevent or reduce the chances of having early or late dumping syndrome if you:

  • eat slowly
  • eat small, frequent meals
  • drink fluids slowly between meals, rather than at mealtimes – try to leave 15 to 30 minutes between eating and drinking
  • eat foods that are high in protein, such as fish, meat and eggs potatoes
  • avoid having foods or drinks that have a lot of added sugar, such as sugary cereals, sweet drinks and desserts – if you have them, eat slowly and only have small amounts
  • rest for 15 to 30 minutes straight after eating a meal.

We have more information about nutritional support and diet problems after surgery.