What is bloating? What does bloating "feeling bloated" mean?
Why am I so bloated? Abdominal bloating or "feeling bloated" is a very frequent and familiar symptom most people have experienced at some time in their lives. There are many reasons you may feel bloated. Most causes are simple, harmless, and easily treatable with over-the-counter or home remedies. Very rarely, abdominal bloating is caused by something more serious, leading to a rapid worsening of uncomfortable symptoms.
The definition of "bloated" is swelling or distension, and it usually refers to abdominal bloating, which is a distended belly. Bloating may be accompanied by burping (belching), gas (flatulence, farting), abdominal discomfort, and a feeling of fullness. People sometimes refer abdominal bloating as a "bloated stomach" or "bloated belly."
What are common causes of "stomach" bloating?
Increased intestinal gas is one of the most common reasons you might be bloated. The foods you eat and how you eat them are the main culprits for increased gassiness.
Causes of gas include:
- Swallowing air from drinking through a straw, or chewing gum.
- Eating too fast
- Eating too much
- Eating fatty foods
- Eating foods that create gas in the intestinal tract (such beans, vegetables, and other high fiber foods)
- Lactose intolerance
- Intestinal disorders, for example, IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease, which includes including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis), and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth).
- Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)
- Abdominal adhesions due to prior surgery(s) in the abdominal or pelvic region, for example, hysterectomy.
Other common causes of bloating include:
- Menstrual period and/or PMS (premenstrual syndrome)
- Drinking a lot of soda or other carbonated beverages
- Food allergies
- Liver disease
- Hiatal hernia
- H. pylori infection (which can lead to stomach ulcers)
Foods that cause a bloated stomach
Foods high in fiber can often cause bloating and gassiness, especially in people who are not used to eating them regularly. The good news is that eating these foods frequently can result in better tolerance and less bloating and gas (and better health).
- Raw, cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cauliflower, kale, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, onions)
- Certain fruits like apricots, apples, peaches, pears, and prunes
- Beans and lentils
- Whole grains
Other foods that may cause bloating and gassiness include:
- Greasy, fatty foods
- Artificial sweeteners (sorbitol)
- Carbonated beverages
- Dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream)
- Salty foods (foods high in sodium, such as processed foods, canned soups, and frozen entrees)
Quick GuideDigestive Disorders: Common Misconceptions
What Are the Symptoms and Causes of Indigestion?
Most of us have experienced indigestion and its symptoms, for example, upper abdominal pain and cramping, bloating, belching, nausea, vomiting, and the feeling of fullness after only eating a few bites. There are common causes of indigestion like GERD or pregnancy. More serious causes include cancers or heart attack.
Natural and home remedies for relief of bloating and gas
The best way to relieve and even prevent symptoms of stomach bloating and gas, is a healthy diet and regular exercise, however, there are many things you can do to prevent and relieve bloating and gas.
- Identify foods that cause you to have bloating or gas, and eliminate them from your diet. Other than vegetables and fruits, many of these foods are not necessary for a healthy and balanced diet.
- Stay active and exercise to help your digestive system function at its best.
- Don’t smoke as this can cause or aggravate bloating and gas.
- Eat smaller portions if you feel bloated after overeating.
- Reduce your intake of fatty foods, which can contribute to feeling overly full.
- Eat more slowly. It can take up to 20 minutes to feel full after you’ve started eating.
- To reduce excess swallowed air that can cause gas and bloating, avoid carbonated beverages such as sodas, drinking with straws, and chewing gum.
- When adding high fiber foods to the diet, do so gradually to allow the body time to adjust.
- Reduce salt intake
- Don’t smoke as this can cause or aggravate bloating and gas.
- Take a walk after eating to stimulate digestion.
You can try natural remedies to relieve bloating and gas.
- Peppermint tea
- Chamomile tea
Talk with your doctor or other health care professional before using any natural or home remedies because they may have unwanted side effects or interactions with medications you currently take.
OTC products for relief of common causes of stomach bloating and gas
For relief of more common, less-serious causes of abdominal or belly bloating, there are a number of OTC (over-the-counter) products.
- Simethicone (Gas-X, Phazyme, Mylicon) can help reduce bloating and gas caused by swallowed air.
- Beano is an over-the-counter product that contains an enzyme called alpha-D galactosidase that can help reduce gas and bloating caused by eating high fiber foods like vegetables and beans.
- Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto Bismol) can help control the odor in gas, and decrease stomach and intestinal symptoms of discomfort.
- Treatments for constipation including senna (Ex-Lax, Senokot), polyethylene glycol (Miralax), and fiber supplements (Metamucil, Benefiber).
What are the more serious causes of stomach or belly bloating?
- Bowel obstruction is a surgical emergency that may cause abdominal distention, bloating, and pain.
- Prior surgery or infection of the intestines that results in adhesions (scarring) can lead to partial or full bowel obstruction, which can result in serious infections or death.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease, or IBD (Cohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, or UC)
- Infections of the intestinal tract, for example, food poisoning, gastroenteritis (stomach flu), colitis, appendicitis, diverticulitis, and C. difficile infection)
- Liver disease, for example, fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites) or massive enlargement of the liver
- Cancers of the abdomen, digestive tract, genitourinary, or reproductive organs
- Pregnancy or complications of pregnancy, for example, such as ectopic pregnancy, tubal pregnancy, or miscarriage
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Lactose intolerance or other food allergies
- Smoking can lead to vascular disease and cancer
When should I call a doctor if I am very bloated and have belly pain?
Contact your doctor or other health care professional if you have severe or persistent bloating and gas that is accompanied by any of these symptoms.
Medically Reviewed on 8/7/2017
Crohn's & Colitis Foundation. Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Irritable Bowel Syndrome Similarities and Differences. July 2014.
Abraczinskas, D., MD. "Intestinal gas and bloating." Updated: June 2017.
International Foundation for Functional and Gastrointestinal Disorders. "Understanding Bloating and Distension." Updated: Sep 06, 2015.
NIH; National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. "Probiotics: In Depth." Updated: October 2017.