What Is bloating?
Bloating is that uncomfortable feeling when your belly seems too full. Sometimes it happens after eating a big meal. Other times, you simply can’t explain it. Bloating may be an uncomfortable feeling that you can’t shake.
Learn what causes bloating, how to relieve it, and how to keep it from coming back.
Bloating is what happens when your belly feels too full of food or air. It’s uncomfortable and can last for hours.
Symptoms of bloating
When you experience bloating, you feel like the area around your stomach is stretched and overfilled. This can make your belly look distended, and your clothes might feel too tight. You might also notice that you belch or pass more gas while you’re bloated. At times the pressure from bloating can be quite painful.
Causes of bloating
There are several reasons for bloating. Most of the time, bloating is easily explained. It is not usually an indication of something more serious.
The most common causes include:
- Constipation: Infrequent or small bowel movements leave stool in your colon. The bacteria in your gut continue to break it down, which produces gas.
- Overeating: Putting too much food in your stomach will make it stretch, and you feel overstuffed.
- Eating foods that cause gas: Foods including beans, some vegetables such as cabbage or asparagus, and artificial sweeteners are hard to digest and cause gas.
- Swallowing air: Eating and drinking too fast, drinking carbonated beverages, or talking while eating can push air into your stomach. This can cause a gassy feeling.
In some cases, bloating is a symptom of a more severe condition that you should discuss with your doctor..
Some possible illnesses that cause bloating include:
- Bowel disease: Serious illnesses such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease can cause bloating.
- Gastroparesis: This is a condition where your stomach empties too slowly and leads to sluggish digestion and gas.
- Celiac disease or other food intolerance: Intolerance to certain foods can cause gas and bloating while your body struggles to break them down.
- Cancer: Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer can all cause bloating.
Who can get bloating
Anyone can get bloating. People can experience bloating at any age. If you start to experience bloating more frequently than usual, you may want to ask your doctor about it. New or unusual symptoms are sometimes a sign of a serious health problem.
Diagnosing the reasons for bloating
If you have occasional bloating that you can connect to something you ate, there is probably no need to talk to a doctor. However, if bloating is frequent and painful, you should see your doctor to talk about the problem.
Your doctor might refer you to a specialist in digestive issues who will conduct an examination and tests to identify the reason for bloating. You might need special imaging procedures such as an ultrasound, endoscopy, colonoscopy, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These procedures allow the doctor to observe the inside of your digestive tract to diagnose any problems.
Treatments for bloating
In general, bloating goes away on its own. Once your body has finished digesting and passes any gas in your belly, you’ll start to feel better. There are some medications that can relieve your symptoms faster than your body’s natural processes.
Over-the-counter medications for stomach discomfort and bloating can be very effective. Both brand name and generic versions work the same way.
Some helpful medications include:
Over-the-counter food additives like Beano or Lactaid can make foods that may cause bloating easier to digest, which will help prevent stomach discomfort.
There are natural remedies that can relieve the discomfort of bloating. Adding these to food or drinking them as tea might be helpful.
Some alternative therapies that help reduce bloating are:
- Peppermint or chamomile tea
In the event that you have a serious underlying condition that causes bloating, you may need prescription medication or even surgery. Speak to your doctor about a major treatment like this.
How to prevent bloating
You can reduce the possibility that you will feel bloated by being careful about what you eat. Avoid foods that tend to make you bloated. Make sure you chew slowly and thoroughly to make digestion easier.
Sitting up straight or taking a walk after eating can also help with digestion. These can reduce bloating by preventing your body from producing excess gas.
If you’re not sure what’s causing your bloating, talk to your doctor. They might suggest an elimination diet, in which you remove bloat-causing foods. These might include dairy products, certain grains, and/or certain sweeteners.
Harvard Health Publishing: What's causing that belly bloat?"
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Bloating: Causes and Prevention Tips."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Digestive Diagnostic Procedures."
Penn Medicine: "Why Do I Feel Bloated? Common Causes of Bloating — and What You Can Do About It."
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