What is bloating?
Bloating occurs in your abdomen (stomach). It happens when your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is filled with air or gas. The GI tract runs from the mouth to the anus (bottom). It includes your entire digestive system. When you are bloated, you feel as if you’ve eaten a big meal and there is no room in your stomach. Your stomach feels full and tight. It can be uncomfortable or painful. Your stomach may actually look bigger. It can make your clothes fit tighter.
Common symptoms of bloating include stomach pain, discomfort, and gas. You may also burp or belch frequently or have abdominal rumbling or gurgling.
If you have any of the following symptoms along with severe bloating, call your doctor:
- Blood in your stool
- Noticeable weight loss (without trying)
- Vaginal bleeding (between your periods, or if you are postmenopausal)
- Heartburn that is getting worse
- Fever (due to an infection)
Bloating happens when the GI tract becomes filled with air or gas. This can be caused by something as simple as the food you eat. Some foods produce more gas than others. It can also be caused by lactose intolerance (problems with dairy). Other simple causes include:
- Swallowing air (this can happen when you chew gum, smoke, or eat too fast)
- Reflux (GERD)
- Weight gain
- Menstruation (in some women)
Other causes could include medical conditions, such as:
- Inflammation (such as a condition called diverticulitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Liver disease (abnormal buildup of fluid in your stomach or pelvis)
- Crohn’s disease
- Blockage in your bowel or bladder
- Cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, or stomach)
- Mental health factors, such as anxiety or depression
- Some medicines
Your doctor can generally diagnose the cause of your bloating through a physical exam in the office. They will ask you questions about your symptoms. They will want to know if your bloating is occasional or if it occurs all the time.
Temporary bloating is usually not serious. If it happens all the time, your doctor may order other tests. These could include an imaging test to look inside your abdomen. This could be an X-ray or CT scan.
There are many ways to prevent and avoid bloating:
- Avoid the foods that are known to cause gas. These include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beans, and lentils.
- Avoid chewing gum.
- Avoid using straws for drinking.
- Reduce or avoid drinking carbonated drinks (such as soda).
- Reduce or avoid eating and drinking foods that include fructose or sorbitol. These artificial sweeteners are often found in sugar-free foods.
- Eat slowly.
- Eat more foods high in fiber to prevent constipation. If foods alone don’t help, consider taking a fiber supplement.
- Avoid dairy products if you notice they cause gas and bloating.
- Quit smoking.
For temporary bloating, ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines that relieve gas and bloating. These could include simethicone or charcoal caps. Probiotics (such as some types of yogurt) and certain herbal ingredients can relieve your discomfort, too. Herbal ingredients include peppermint and chamomile tea, anise, caraway, coriander, fennel, and turmeric.
If your bloating is caused by something more serious, your doctor will treat the underlying cause.
Living with bloating
Living with bloating can be uncomfortable. You may have stomach pain or just a sense of fullness. When it affects how your clothes fit, it can be frustrating. If your bloating is constant, don’t suffer unnecessarily. See your doctor to determine if the cause of the bloating is something more serious.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Do I need a test to diagnose lactose intolerance?
- Why do certain foods cause me to be bloated when they never used to?
- What can I do if I have diabetes and my medicine or artificial sweeteners cause bloating?
- Could my bloating be a sign of something more serious?
- What kind of tests will I need?
- What kind of over-the-counter medicine can I try?