What is bloating?
Bloating can be defined as swelling or feeling of fullness in the abdomen. It is usually due to the formation of gas in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is commonly caused by overeating, lactose intolerance, and constipation.
A bloated stomach gives a feeling of tightness, or fullness in your abdomen, which can be mildly uncomfortable or quite painful. It causes the belly to look larger than usual. In some people, it usually goes away after a while, but in some, it may be a recurring problem.
Bloating can be caused by many different reasons. The most common reason is the formation of gas in the GI tract. This can be caused by:
- Eating a lot of salty foods such as pizza, sandwiches, cold cuts, canned soups, bread rolls, and bagels. These foods contain significant amounts of salt (sodium), which can lead to the formation of gas and a bloated stomach.
- Consuming too many carbohydrates in some people can cause bloating. This is because these people suffer from carbohydrate intolerance, which simply put is their body’s inability to metabolize carbohydrates normally.
- People who eat too fast swallow a lot of air, which can accumulate in the stomach and cause bloating.
- Drinking a lot of aerated drinks can also cause a stuffy stomach for the same reason.
Habitual bloating can be caused by other chronic problems:
- Constipation causes stools to stay in the colon for a longer time giving the intestinal bacteria more time to ferment it causing more gas.
- Celiac disease is a chronic digestive disorder that causes inflammation of the intestine resulting in digestion problems and bloating.
- Intolerance to certain foods such as most commonly milk (lactose intolerance). You can also develop intolerance to other foods such as some fruits, vegetables, and grains. Intolerance simply means the inability to digest those particular foods.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder that affects the stomach and intestines and has a high prevalence of bloating symptoms in such patients.
- In women, hormonal changes can cause abdominal stuffiness. Hormonal bloating, sometimes called period bloating, is a very common premenstrual symptom, occurring before menstruation and during menopause.
- Helicobacter pylori infection is caused by this bacteria principally in the stomach and can cause stomach ulcers. Besides heartburn, it can also cause bloating.
- Some of the medicines that can cause bloating include aspirin, antacids, diarrhea medicines such as Imodium and Lomotil, fiber supplements, multivitamins, and iron supplements.
- Stress can cause bloating because it can slow down digestion in some people.
- Gastroparesis is a condition that causes delayed emptying of the stomach, which can cause bloating and nausea.
If you are feeling bloated, you may also experience some other symptoms. They include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Gas (flatulence)
How common is stomach bloating?
- Ten to 25% of healthy people experience abdominal symptoms occasionally.
- About 75% of the people have moderate to severe symptoms.
- About 10% of people regularly have bloated stomach symptoms.
- About 90% of people with IBS regularly have bloating problems.
- Up to 75% of women experience bloating during their premenstrual and menstrual periods.
- Only 50% of people who experience a bloated stomach have a swollen abdomen.
Treatment to relieve bloating fast
Your doctor will treat temporary bloating with over-the-counter medicines that relieve gas and bloating such as simethicone or charcoal caps.
Probiotics can also relieve a bloated stomach. Herbal ingredients are also effective and include peppermint and chamomile tea, anise, caraway, coriander, fennel, and turmeric.
Regular exercise with focusing particularly on abdominal and core muscles can help fight abdominal bloating.
Women who experience a bloated stomach during premenstrual period or during menopause should consult the doctor who may then start you on hormonal therapy if he finds the hormonal changes are causing your problem.
If your bloating is caused by a more serious underlying cause, your doctor will accordingly carry out diagnostic tests to confirm the cause and then treat it.
Chronic constipation caused by underlying conditions, such as IBS or gastroparesis, requires medical treatment. Consult your doctor for treating such conditions.
How to prevent bloating?
To keep your digestive system working well, follow a healthy diet. Try to:
- Increase your fiber intake with fiber-rich foods. Fiber supplements such as psyllium or 100% bran can worsen bloating symptoms.
- Cut down on processed and fatty foods.
- Limit your alcohol intake and dilute it well with water.
- Avoid aerated drinks.
- Avoid chewing gum because when you chew gum, you tend to swallow air.
- Drink enough water to allow the fiber to allow proper evacuation of the gut.
- Keep your eating schedule regular. Chew your food well and eat slowly. This will help in proper digestion and prevent digestive problems.
- Exercise regularly. It will strengthen your abdominal and core muscles. This will further improve your digestion and gut motility.
- Avoid smoking because it is bad for your digestion. If you smoke, try to quit now.
- Try to identify which foods cause bloating. Common foods that produce gas are Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans, and lentils. Avoid such foods. Take the help of a dietician if necessary.
- People with lactose intolerance should avoid milk and milk products.
When should you consult your doctor?
Consult your healthcare provider if you have any of the following signs or symptoms along with bloating:
- Abdominal pain
- Dark, tarry-looking stools indicating blood in the stools
- Heartburn that is getting worse
- Loss of weight