Bloating is a common yet uncomfortable problem that affects persons of all ages.
It may even cause abdominal pain, but the good news is that bloating can be managed or even prevented with effective remedies and lifestyle adjustments.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is a sensation of abdominal discomfort and fullness, often accompanied by visible swelling or distention of the stomach.
It occurs when the gastrointestinal tract fills with gas or water or both, leading to a temporary increase in abdominal size and discomfort.
It can also be caused by swallowing air, which often accumulates in the gastrointestinal tract. This can happen when you eat or drink too quickly or talk while eating or indulge chewing your gum. This could cause your stomach to be filled with air.
What Causes Abdominal Bloating?
Bloating occurs when your stomach or intestines fill up often with gas, resulting in a swollen, distended feeling.
Also, both water and air can cause your stomach to bloat.
- Gas-producing foods: Some foods, particularly those rich in carbohydrates, can cause gas production in the gut. Examples include beans, lentils, broccoli, cabbage, onions and carbonated beverages.
- Constipation: A build-up of fecal matter in the colon can cause bloating, as gas becomes trapped behind the stool.
- Fluid retention: Certain medical conditions, hormonal changes and medications can cause your body to retain excess water, leading to abdominal bloating.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can cause chronic bloating.
- Swallowing air: Consuming food or beverages quickly, talking while eating or chewing gum can cause you to swallow air, which can lead to abdominal bloating.
- FODMAPs: Fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs) are a group of short-chain carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the gut. As a result, they may ferment in the large intestine, producing gas and causing bloating. A low-FODMAP diet can be beneficial for those who experience bloating due to IBS or other functional gastrointestinal disorders.
- Lactose Intolerance: Individuals who lack the enzyme lactase may experience bloating after consuming dairy products. Lactose-free or lactase-supplemented dairy products can help alleviate symptoms.
- Gluten Sensitivity: Some people may experience abdominal bloating after consuming gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Adopting a gluten-free diet can help alleviate symptoms.
- Overeating: Consuming large meals or eating too quickly can cause your stomach to stretch, resulting in bloating. Opt for smaller, more frequent meals and eat slowly to give your body time to digest.
- Inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle can lead to constipation and abdominal bloating. Incorporate regular exercise into your daily routine to help keep your digestive system in check.
- Stress: High levels of stress can have a negative impact on your gut health, contributing to bloating. Implement stress management techniques, such as deep breathing exercises, meditation or yoga, to help reduce stress-related bloating.
- Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS): In the days leading up to menstruation, hormonal fluctuations can cause water retention and bloating. The hormone progesterone, which rises during the second half of the menstrual cycle, can slow down the digestive process, leading to bloating and gas.
- Pregnancy: Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause bloating, especially in the early stages. Increased progesterone levels can slow down digestion, while the growing uterus may put pressure on the intestines, contributing to bloating and gas.
- Menopause: Hormonal changes during the menopausal transition can cause temporary bloating due to fluctuating estrogen and progesterone levels. However, after menopause, when the ovaries stop producing these hormones and the body maintains lower, more stable hormone levels, many women may experience less bloating.
- PCOS: Women with PCOS may experience an altered balance of gut bacteria, which can negatively impact nutrient absorption and digestion efficiency. As a result, they might experience bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Remedies and Prevention
Let’s explore some effective remedies and preventive measures for your bloating relief, which are as follows:
- Identify potential triggers: Track your food and beverage intake to help identify potential triggers causing abdominal bloating.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking water throughout the day can help prevent constipation and aid in digestion.
- Avoid gas-producing foods:Gradually reduce your intake of gas-causing foods like beans, cabbage and carbonated beverages, and see if your bloating symptoms reduce.
- Incorporate probiotics: Probiotics, found in foods like yogurt, kefir and fermented vegetables, can help promote a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which may alleviate bloating.
- Try herbal remedies: Certain herbs, such as peppermint, ginger and fennel, have been shown to help reduce bloating and gas. Drinking herbal teas or taking supplements containing these herbs may provide relief.
- Practice mindful eating: Pay attention to your hunger and fullness cues, eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly to improve digestion and prevent overeating.
- Consider over-the-counter remedies: Gas-relief medications like simethicone or activated charcoal can help to break up gas bubbles and alleviate bloating. Consult with your doctor before using any over-the-counter remedies, especially if you have an existing medical condition.
- Seek professional guidance: If your bloating is persistent, severe or accompanied by other symptoms, consult with your doctor to rule out other underlying medical conditions.
- Exercise regularly: Engage in regular physical activity to enhance digestion and reduce the likelihood of bloating. Exercise can also provide relief during episodes of bloating and discomfort.
Foods That May Cause Abdominal Bloating
Consider limiting or avoiding foods that may cause or worsen your abdominal bloating problem. These foods are:
- Beans and lentils: These legumes can cause gas production due to their high fiber and oligosaccharide content.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage and Brussels sprouts can cause gas and bloating due to their high fiber and sulfur content.
- Onions and garlic: These vegetables contain fructans, a type of carbohydrate that can be difficult for some people to digest, leading to gas and bloating.
- Carbonated beverages: Soda and other fizzy drinks can cause abdominal bloating.
- Dairy products: For those who are lactose intolerant, consuming milk, cheese and other dairy products can cause gas, bloating, and abdominal discomfort.
- Wheat and rye: These grains contain gluten, which can cause bloating and digestive issues for individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
- Sugar alcohols: Sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol, often found in sugar-free gum and processed foods, can cause gas and bloating in some individuals.
- High-FODMAP foods: FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, and Monosaccharides and Polyols) are short-chain carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the gut, leading to gas production and bloating. Examples include apples, pears, watermelon, honey and high-fructose corn syrup.
- Salty foods: Consuming excessive amounts of sodium can cause water retention, leading to bloating.
When to See a Doctor
While abdominal bloating is often harmless and temporary, it can sometimes be a sign of a serious underlying health problem.
If you experience any of the following symptoms along with bloating, it’s important to consult with your doctor:
- Sudden or severe abdominal pain
- Unintentional weight loss
- Persistent diarrhea or constipation
- Blood in your stool
- Difficulty swallowing
Bloating can be uncomfortable, frustrating and sometimes even painful.
However, with a better understanding of its possible causes and remedies, you can well manage your bloating issues.
Remember to pay attention to your body’s cues, make dietary and lifestyle adjustments as necessary and seek professional help when required.
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Sources: Johns Hopkins, Cleveland Clinic, Healthline, Medical News Today (1, 2), IFFGD.