CONDITIONS

Bloating

What Is Bloating

Abdominal bloating is a condition in which the abdomen feels full and/or tight. This may happen with or without physical distention (swelling) of the abdominal wall. Abdominal bloating can cause discomfort or pain, as well as hinder your overall feeling of well-being. In some cases, bloating can interfere with the way clothing fits or affect your confidence in social settings. A 2008 population-based study found that about 20% of people are experiencing bloating and/or abdominal distention at any given time. Most Americans will experience temporary abdominal bloating at some point during their lives. Rarely, abdominal bloating can be cause of a more serious illness.

There are a variety of causes of abdominal bloating, and a variety of potential treatment methods.

 

What Causes Bloating

According to the National Institute of Health, the following may be causes of abdominal bloating:

  • Swallowing air
  • Constipation
  • Gatroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lactose intolerance and other problems digesting foods
  • Overeating
  • Mild bacterial overgrowth in the bowel
  • Weight gain

 

Risk Factors For Bloating

The following can increase your risk of abdominal bloating:

  • Pre-existing gastrointestinal disorders. About 65% of patients with gastrointestinal disorders (such as GERD and IBS) experience abdominal bloating.
  • Sex. Women may be more likely to experience bloating, which is most likely connected to menstruation.
  • Diet. Overeating or eating a high salt, fat, or sugar diet can increase the likelihood of abdominal bloating.
  • Treatment with antibiotics. Antibiotics disturb the balance of bacteria within your colon which can lead to abdominal bloating.
  • Lack of exercise. Regular exercise helps to promote proper digestion and regular bowel movements, which can prevent abdominal bloating.

Diagnosing Bloating

Abdominal Bloating can most likely be recognized by your doctor through either a symptom report or a physical exam. To rule out the possibility of a more serious condition, your doctor may conduct several of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Physical exam to rule out the presence of additional swelling, tenderness, or pain in the abdomen.
  • Imaging techniques such as MRIs, X-rays, and CT-scans, which can provide images of the stomach and other internal organs.
  • Tests for specific gastrointestinal disorders such as IBS, GERD, lactose intolerance, colon cancer, etc.

Symptoms of Bloating

The symptoms of bloating can be a bit difficult to pinpoint precisely, but most people describe an uncomfortable feeling of fullness or swelling in the abdomen, which is sometimes accompanied by pain, excessive gas, frequent burping, and a rumbling belly.

Prognosis

Mild cases of abdominal bloating may go away without treatment after several hours or days. More persistent cases of abdominal bloating may require lifestyle changes such as changes to diet/exercise routine, and can improve after several days or weeks. More severe cases of abdominal bloating may be associated with pre-existing conditions and therefore may take longer to resolve.

 

Living With Bloating

The following tips can help you lessen abdominal bloating:

  • Exercise regularly, with a goal of 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Aim for eating meals at a comfortable pace at regular times each day. Try to eat a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables. If constipation is the cause of your bloating, high-fiber foods can worsen your symptoms.
  • Don’t eat while you talk. Eating while you talk can lead you to swallow air which can result in bloating.
  • Take a walk after you eat to help aid digestion and pass any gas that may build up during the meal.
  • Avoid foods that can trigger bloating such as dairy products, high-sugar foods, chewing gum, Brussel sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans, and lentils.
  • Avoid drinks that can trigger bloating such as alcohol, milk, and carbonated beverages.
  • Manage stress. Unchecked stress can disrupt digestion and potentially lead to abdominal bloating. Regular exercise can help to manage stress as well as personal hobbies and mind-body techniques such as yoga and meditation.

Prevention

The following tips can help you lessen abdominal bloating:

  • Exercise regularly, with a goal of 20-30 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Aim for eating meals at a comfortable pace at regular times each day. Try to eat a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables. If constipation is the cause of your bloating, high-fiber foods can worsen your symptoms.
  • Take a probiotic. Probiotics can help to maintain a healthy balance of gut bacteria, which helps to prevent bloating. Probiotic bacteria can also be found in certain foods such as yogurts with live active cultures.
  • Avoid foods that can trigger bloating such as dairy products, high-sugar foods, chewing gum, Brussel sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans, and lentils.
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid constipation. Be wary of drinking too much water, as this might increase your risk of bloating.
  • Avoid drinks that can trigger bloating such as alcohol, milk, and carbonated beverages.
  • Manage stress. Unchecked stress can disrupt digestion and potentially lead to abdominal bloating. Regular exercise can help to manage stress as well as personal hobbies and mind-body techniques such as yoga and meditation.

Medication And Treatment

Bloating can most often be resolved through making the following lifestyle changes:

  • Incorporating regular exercise into your routine
  • Taking a probiotic to resolve any imbalance in gut bacteria.
  • Avoiding triggering foods and drinks such as:
    • Dairy products
    • High sugar foods
    • Chewing gum
    • Brussel sprouts
    • Turnips
    • Cabbage
    • Beans
    • Lentils
    • Alcohol
  • Managing stress with exercises, hobbies, and/or mind-body techniques such as yoga and meditation.

In addition to lifestyle changes, over the counter (OTC) medications can help manage abdominal bloating, depending on the cause. Active ingredients to look for in OTC medications include:

  • Alpha-D-galactosidase, which helps to break down indigestible sugars in gas-producing foods such as vegetables and beans
  • Simethicone, which works by decreasing the surface area of gas bubbles within the digestive tract, allowing for their easy passage.
  • Charcoal, which helps to absorb excess gas

Bloating that is not resolved by lifestyle changes and/or over the counter medications may be the result of a more serious condition. If you experience bloating that is not bettered by OTC meditation or lifestyle changes, visit your doctor. He or she will be able to more thoroughly diagnose the cause of your symptoms.

Complementary and Alternative Treatment

The following alternative treatments may help to lessen or prevent abdominal bloating:

Herbal therapies. Several herbs have been shown to promote healthy digestion and decrease the severity of abdominal bloating. According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, these include:

  • Peppermint tea
  • Chamomile tea
  • Anise
  • Caraway
  • Coriander
  • Fennel
  • Turmeric

Bulking agents such as psyllium husk and alfalfa can improve abdominal bloating if the cause is digestive irregularity, but can worsen bloating if the cause is constipation. Be sure to drink plenty of water while taking a bulking agent to prevent constipation.

Acupuncture, a form of traditional Chinese medicine in which thin needles are inserted at points around the body to restore the bodily flow of energy. Acupuncture has been proven to decrease stress and anxiety, and can also help to restore proper digestion.

Yoga. Yoga is a form of mind and body exercise that has potential to decrease stress and prevent many gastrointestinal diseases. For the best effect, yoga should be practiced for at least 20 minutes a day, every day. The breathing exercises associated with yoga, known as pranayama, can be especially helpful in reducing the severity of gastrointestinal disruptions as they work to strengthen the diaphragm/chest muscles and also reduce stress/anxiety.

Meditation/guided imagery, which can be effective means of stress reduction and management. Meditation can be conducted independently or in a group setting. Guided imagery typically is conducted in a group setting or one on one with a therapist, though pre-recorded audio files of guided imagery are available.

When To Contact A Doctor

If you are experiencing abdominal bloating, contact a doctor if you notice any of the following:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stools
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Worsening heartburn
  • Chest pain**

**This may be a sign of a heart attack, contact emergency services immediately.

Questions For A Doctor

You may want to ask your doctor the following questions:

  • What is the cause of my bloating?
  • Could I have a more serious condition?
  • Is my bloating triggered by particular foods?
  • How long will it take for my bloating to subside?
  • Should I be concerned if over-the-counter medications have not helped my bloating?
  • What lifestyle changes can I make to better my condition?
  • Should these changes be temporary or lasting?