What’s abdominal bloating?
Abdominal bloating is a condition where your abdomen or belly feels full, tight, or swollen. This commonly happens due to an excess buildup of air or gas in your stomach or intestines. You can get abdominal bloating at any age.
If you have abdominal bloating, it may have been caused by:
- irritable bowel syndrome
- fluid retention
- an infection.
The cause of your bloating may be harmless, and you can treat it at home.
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If your bloating occurs after you had a meal, it may have been caused by the food you just consumed. If that’s the reason, the bloating will likely resolve itself after a while.
Whenever you experience abdominal bloating, it is important that you take steps to speed up the process of resolving what is causing your bloating. When you’re bloated, your abdomen will look larger than usual. It may become swollen (distended), hard, tender, or painful.
The discomfort caused by abdominal bloating may interfere with your ability to work, socialize, or participate in recreational activities. When stool becomes backed up in your large intestine, it can cause bloating and a feeling of discomfort.
Excess gas may also build up behind the stool, making the bloating worse. If you have abdominal bloating, it will often be accompanied by:
- frequent burping or belching
- abdominal rumbling or gurgles
- excessive gas
Causes of abdominal bloating
Abdominal bloating is not unusual. You may frequently experience the same type of bloating that follows a predictable pattern.
This is usually nothing you should worry about. Your bloating shouldn’t be a cause for concern if it is associated with food or eating and if it doesn’t get worse with time. If your bloating goes away within a day or two, you shouldn’t be unduly worried.
Here are the main causes of abdominal bloating:
Air and gas buildup
A buildup of gas in your stomach and intestines is among the most common causes of your abdominal bloating, especially if your bloating occurs after you’ve recently eaten. Gas builds up in your digestive tract when you swallow air, or when undigested food gets broken down.
When you eat or drink, you often swallow air especially if you’re eating or drinking too fast. You’re also likely to swallow air while smoking, chewing gum, or if you’re wearing loose dentures.
Burping and flatulence are two ways that your body gets rid of swallowed air. Delayed emptying of your stomach after you’ve eaten can also cause the accumulation of gas, resulting in bloating and abdominal distension.
In most cases, your excess gas discomfort will go away on its own after a few hours. Excess gas in your stomach may be caused by:
- a stomach infection
- certain foods such as broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage
- chronic illnesses, such as Crohn’s disease
- a range of other health conditions
- too much salt or sugar
- fizzy drinks
- not consuming enough fiber in your diet
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You may be allergic to some foods that cause your stomach to bloat.
If you have an intolerance for certain foods, you’re likely to have poor absorption of the food you eat. When you have this condition, you’ll become bloated after eating certain foods.
This will commonly occur if you’re lactose intolerant or you have a gluten allergy or celiac disease. Your bloating will usually go away on its own but it may also be linked to symptoms such as diarrhea or stomach pain.
Another common cause of your abdominal bloating is constipation. The longer your stool sits in your large intestine, the more time bacteria have to ferment whatever is in there.
As the fermentation goes on, you’ll get gassier, and you’re going to feel a lot more bloated (1, 2, 3). Symptoms that you’re constipated include:
- you strain to start or finish a bowel movement
- your stool looks like rocks and pebbles
- you don’t feel empty after having a bowel movement
- abnormal abdominal reflexes
- overgrowth or deficiency of bacteria within your GI tract
The pain and discomfort that you feel may also be due to indigestion. You may experience indigestion from time to time as a result of:
- drinking too much alcohol
- eating too much food
- a minor stomach infection
- medications that cause irritation to your stomach such as Ibuprofen.
If you have frequent indigestion that you don’t think is associated with food or other apparent causes, this may be a sign of something more serious. If this is what you experience, you should consult your doctor. You may have a stomach ulcer, liver failure, or cancer.
Your body infrequently retains excess fluid if you eat salty foods, have food intolerances, or if you’re experiencing changes in hormone levels. You may also become bloated immediately before getting your periods or early in your pregnancy if you’re pregnant.
If you develop chronic abdominal bloating due to fluid retention, you should be concerned. You may have a more serious condition such as diabetes or kidney failure. Consult your doctor if your bloating persists and does not go away.
If you have a stomach infection, you will likely experience abdominal bloating and gas. Most stomach infections are caused by bacteria or viruses.
Your stomach infection will usually be accompanied by:
- stomach pain.
If a stomach infection is what caused your abdominal bloating, it will usually go away on its own after a few days. However, you may become severely dehydrated or your condition may get worse over several days.
You should see your doctor if your bloating symptoms are accompanied by:
- frequent and severe vomiting
- bloody stool.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Your stomach and intestines are home to a variety of normal flora bacteria. These ‘good’ bacteria help your body to digest the food you eat.
Any disturbance in your body’s equilibrium or balance of these good bacteria can lead to an increase in harmful bacteria present in your small intestine. This condition is known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO (4).
SIBO occurs when there is an abnormal increase in the overall bacterial population in your small intestine, especially the types of bacteria not commonly found in that part of your digestive tract (5).
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth can cause your abdominal bloating. The resulting frequent diarrhea may also lead to difficulties digesting your food and absorbing nutrients.
Gastroparesis is a disorder that affects the normal emptying of your stomach. If you have this condition, your stomach muscles have stopped working properly, and food passes much more slowly through your stomach and intestines.
Symptoms of gastroparesis include:
- loss of appetite
- nausea and vomiting
- feeling full very quickly when eating
- pain and discomfort.
If you have gallstones, you may have abdominal bloating. It is one of the symptoms of the disease. Gallstones or gallbladder disease may make you have intense abdominal pain that mimics bloating.
If you have cancer of the stomach or intestines, this may also lead to discomfort and abdominal bloating.
This is another condition that will make you experience abdominal pain and bloating. Ascites is a buildup of fluid in your abdominal cavity over a period of time. The most common reason why you have ascites is liver disease.
Some gynecological problems such as endometriosis can make you experience cramping and abdominal bloating. This happens when the lining of your womb attaches itself to your stomach or intestines.
Chronic disorders that cause abdominal bloating
If you have chronic gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s disease, you may frequently have abdominal bloating also. Both IBS and Crohn’s disease will cause you to have gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and unintentional weight loss.
Home remedies and treatments to prevent or relieve abdominal bloating
Many home remedies will help you to safely treat your bloating and manage your pain and discomfort. The following quick tips are options that will help you to get rid of a bloated belly fast:
Your abdominal bloating symptoms can be diminished or even prevented if you adopt a few simple lifestyle changes such as losing weight if you’re overweight. Typically, your first line of treatment for preventing gas and bloating is to change your diet.
You should keep a food diary to monitor abdominal bloating occurrences. This will help you to identify food intolerances and make healthy lifestyle changes accordingly.
You may find out that simply avoiding certain foods can prevent bloating and other gastrointestinal problems. To reduce the probability of swallowing too much air, you should:
- limit your intake of carbonated drinks.
- avoid chewing gum. Chewing gum makes you swallow extra air, subsequently causing abdominal bloating.
- avoid foods that cause gas, such as cabbages, dried beans, and lentils.
- eat slowly and avoid drinking fluids through a straw.
- use lactose-free dairy products if you’re lactose intolerant.
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Probiotics to relieve abdominal bloating
Research studies have shown that probiotics will help you repopulate the healthy bacteria in your digestive tract. You’ll find probiotics in kefir and Greek yogurt (6). You may also take probiotic supplements. Consult your doctor before taking any supplements.
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Apply a heating pad to your stomach will help to ease pain and discomfort associated with abdominal bloating.
If you take walks or engage in other physical activities, this will help your bowels to move more regularly. This ultimately helps to release the excess gas and stool in your gastrointestinal tract.
When you’re constipated, you should take walks to get your bowels to move. A walk around the block where you live can provide fast relief from gas pressure.
Some yoga poses can position your abdominal muscles in such a way that it encourages the release of excess gas from your GI tract. This ultimately helps reduce your abdominal bloating.
Squats, Child’s Pose, and Happy Baby Pose are yoga poses that can help you relieve a buildup of gas quickly. Learn more about yoga poses that are helpful for flatulence.
Use peppermint capsules
Peppermint capsules may help your indigestion and abdominal bloating caused by gas. So these are also good to relieve your symptoms if you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Peppermint works by relaxing the walls of your intestines, allowing gas and stool to move along more freely and effectively.
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Take gas relief capsules
Over-the-counter anti-gas medications like simethicone pill and liquid will help move excess air and gas out of your digestive tract.
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Use essential oils
In a 2016 study, some people who had mild-to-moderate IBS were given supplements containing a combination of fennel and curcumin essential oil. After 30 days, they reported an improvement in their IBS symptoms, including pain and abdominal bloating.
The dosages of these essential oils are not regulated at this time. So you should consult your doctor before consuming essential oils.
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Try abdominal massages
Massaging your abdomen can help to get your bowels moving. To do this:
- Place your hands just above your right hip bone
- Rub your hands in a circular motion with light pressure up toward the right side of your ribcage
- Rub straight across your upper belly area toward your left rib cage
- Move slowly down toward your left hip bone
- Repeat the cycle as necessary.
You should discontinue the massage if it causes you additional pain.
Long-term solutions for abdominal bloating
If you have frequent bloating you need to make some lifestyle changes that will take help to reduce your bloating over time. Here are some simple steps to help you prevent bloating in the long term:
Increase your fiber intake
You should gradually increase your fiber intake. This will help prevent constipation and abdominal bloating. Note that consuming too much fiber or increasing fiber intake too quickly, may cause you more gas and bloat.
When increasing your fiber intake, you should start slowly. Then increase your intake over several weeks. This will allow your body to adjust to your diet modification.
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Avoid chewing gum
You may get abdominal bloating from the sugar alcohols in chewing gum. The air you swallow while chewing gum may lead to gas pain and bloating.
You should avoid drinking sodas and replace them with water. When you drink fizzy carbonated beverages, they will cause gas build up in your stomach.
The sugars in sodas or the artificial sweeteners in diet sodas can cause gas and abdominal bloating. You’re better off drinking water. It will help treat constipation.
Cut down on your salt intake
You may already know that having excess sodium in your body causes your body to retain water. When you retain water, your feet will become bloated ad swollen. The bloating will be felt in your belly and other areas of your body such as your hands and feet. You may use salt substitutes and still get the real taste of salt.
Get more active
It is important that you incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine. Exercise helps your bowels move, excreting stool, and gas out of your colon. This will help regulate your bowel movements.
When you exercise, you lose a lot of sodium through sweating. This loss of sodium from your body helps relieve water retention.
Probiotics are live microorganisms that you consume through fermented foods or supplements (6). They
are good bacteria that live in your intestines.
Taking probiotic supplements will help regulate the healthy bacteria in your colon and eliminate the ones that produce gas and cause bloating.
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Check your supplements and medications
Some supplements you take can cause constipation and other symptoms of indigestion. This includes iron supplements. If you take them, you may have abdominal bloating.
Potassium mineral supplements may reduce bloating by helping to balance your body’s sodium levels. The side effects of some other medications may also cause indigestion. If this happens, notify your doctor.
Keep a food diary
You may be wondering if your abdominal bloating is caused by food intolerances. As you may already know, food intolerances lead to excessive gas in your digestive tract.
If you have lactose intolerance, you’ll have problems with bloating. This is because you’re not able to digest the lactose sugar in dairy products.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune health condition that’s caused by your intolerance to gluten. If your bloating occurs after meals, you should start keeping track of all the food and drink you consume. Start a journal for that purpose.
If you keep a journal and record this for several weeks, you should be able to determine which specific foods or drinks caused abdominal bloating after you consumed them.
When you should see your doctor
It’s uncommon, but your abdominal bloating may be a sign of something more serious. Medical conditions that can cause bloating include:
- heart failure
- liver disease
- kidney problems
- inflammatory bowel disease
- some types of cancer.
Consult your doctor if you have ongoing bloating that doesn’t go away after days or weeks. Also speak to your doctor if your abdominal bloating is accompanied by:
- severely intense or prolonged abdominal pain
- appetite changes or trouble eating
- a fever
- any vomiting that lasts longer than 24 hours. Maybe or you can’t keep food down.
- bright red blood in your stools
- black or dark maroon stools
- a physical injury such as a punch to your stomach or a car accident
- rapid swelling of your abdomen or swelling anywhere else in your body.
- liver or kidney failure