Can heart problems cause stomach bloating?

Introduction

Stomach pain and other gastrointestinal issues can be indicative of cardiovascular health. Typically, these gastrointestinal symptoms manifest themselves due to the heart's inability to adequately pump blood around the body. Here, we discuss bloating symptoms, heart disease, and provide some lifestyle recommendations to help you beat the bloating.

What is bloating?

Abdominal bloating is a very common symptom that affects many people. It is especially found in patients who suffer from functional gastrointestinal disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), aerophagia, and functional constipation. However, it can be difficult to articulate exactly what it implies, and a variety of different terms may be used to do so. Other bloating-related symptoms that may be present in certain patients include excessive gas, frequent burping, and belly rumbling. Bloating is common after a long weekend or over a festive season, but it can be reduced or prevented with some lifestyle changes and non-drug treatments.1,2

Several elements contribute to bloating.2

  1. Physical factors affect the volume of contents and pressure in the abdomen. 
  2. Heightened perception of sensations arising in the gut (visceral hypersensitivity).
  3. Fluid accumulation/retention increases the volume between the intestines and abdomen.

The common cause of bloating is organic GI diseases, such as lactose intolerance, bacterial overgrowth, celiac disease, gas-bloat syndrome, and intestinal obstruction. Some non-GI diseases, which include heart failure and liver cirrhosis, can also induce bloating by causing fluid to accumulate in the abdomen, which can be uncomfortable. Bloating is also a common sign of menstrual cramps in people assigned female at birth (AFAB), and it is considered normal.2

What is heart disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of the leading causes of mortality and disability in the United Kingdom, yet it is often preventable by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. CVD is characterised by the inadequate supply of oxygenated blood to the heart due to the narrowing or blocking of arteries, which impedes blood flow and severely affects organ systems. CVD can be classified into four categories: coronary heart disease, stroke, peripheral arterial disease, and aortic disease. The most common symptoms associated with each form of CVD are distinct from one another.3 Furthermore, there are a variety of factors that can enhance your chances of getting heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to get CVD. You can have your risk assessments on blood pressure, smoking status, cholesterol, diabetes, exercise, and obesity using our Klarity App. 

How heart problems can cause gastrointestinal problems 

The heart is the focal point of the circulatory system, a network of blood vessels that transport blood around the body. The digestive system takes up 20-25% of blood flow, so issues with these organs could be indicative of heart problems. Cardiovascular disease, particularly congestive heart failure, can result in gastrointestinal complications. Fluid retention is one of the most common symptoms of heart failure, which occurs when the heart is unable to supply enough oxygen to the body's other organs. As a result of the fluid retention caused by heart failure, fluid accumulates in the gastrointestinal tract, which leads to bloating with or without distension.4 Bloating in the abdomen can be caused by the fluid accumulation in the following areas:

  • Liver, which makes your abdomen feel swollen or tender.
  • Stomach, which causes decreased appetite, bloating, and nausea.5
  • Intestines, which causes decreased appetite and poor absorption of medicines and food.

When patients suffer from heart disease, their blood circulation slows and their body chemistry shifts from alkaline to acidic. Once the body has reached this acidic condition, organ systems, including the digestive tract, cannot operate effectively, which may result in bloating.

How to reduce bloating

If the reason for bloating can be identified, it is typically possible to treat it effectively; however, this is not always possible. When no apparent cause can be identified, treatment mainly consists of avoiding the offending foods, medication, and in certain cases, psychological therapies, such as hypnosis and behavioural treatments.2

Drug treatments

Over-the-counter remedies, including simethicone and activated charcoal, are used to treat gas and bloating symptoms, despite their effectiveness being debatable. Patients with bloating owing to functional gastrointestinal issues may benefit from the usage of antidepressants that work by altering the perception of gut feelings at the higher level of the nervous system.1

Non-drug interventions

According to some studies, probiotic formulations are shown to improve bloating and flatulence. These formulations comprise bacterial species, such as Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium.6 Probiotics can be found in fermented dairy products, such as kefir and Greek yoghurt. Patients with IBS have reported relief from bloating after undergoing hypnosis.1,7 Patients suffering from bloating due to aerophagia may require behavioural therapy from a psychologist.9

Lifestyle advice2,9

  • Stop chewing gum and chew food with your mouth closed. 
  • Avoid foods that cause gas, such as vegetables in the cabbage family, dried beans, lentils, onions, sprouts, and cauliflower
  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables a day
  • Eat slowly and avoid drinking through a straw
  • Reduce the number of fizzy drinks you consume
  • Use lactose-free dairy products if you are lactose intolerant
  • Exercise regularly. Do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week

Summary 

Bloating is commonly considered to be an inconvenience. The discomfort is caused by your stomach expanding, which you can relieve by moving around, drinking water, or sleeping it off. It is possible to reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of stomach bloating by making a few easy modifications to your lifestyle. On the other hand, bloating can be a symptom of a serious cardiovascular disease. Consult your doctor if you notice that your everyday life has been significantly disrupted by bloating. This could be due to a digestive condition or dietary issues. 

References:

  1. Syed Thiwan, UNC Centre for Functional GI & Motility Disorders https://www.med.unc.edu/ibs/wp-content/uploads/sites/450/2017/10/Abdominal-Bloating.pdf
  2. NHS https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/remedies-for-bloating-and-wind/ 
  3. NHS https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cardiovascular-disease/ 
  4. https://www.premierheartandveincare.com/heart-disease-affects-digestive-system/ 
  5. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tx4083abc 
  6. Seo A, Kim N, Oh D. Abdominal Bloating: Pathophysiology and Treatment. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility. 2013 [cited 2 Mar 2022];19(4):433-453.
  7. https://badgut.org/information-centre/a-z-digestive-topics/ibs-and-hypnosis/ 
  8. Cigrang J, Hunter C, Peterson A. Behavioral Treatment of Chronic Belching Due to Aerophagia in a Normal Adult. Behavior Modification. 2006 [cited 2 Mar 2022]; 30(3):341-351.
  9. https://www.healthline.com/health/abdominal-bloating 

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Yuting Jiang

Master of Science in Pharmacy - UCL (University College London)
Dynamic Master of Pharmacy student driven by a passion for providing high-quality patient care. Engaged in rigorous programmes of professional development, refining a myriad of skills, including data, analytical, and numerical. Gained excellent multi-lingual communication skills used to great effect in developing strong, multidisciplinary relationships and in the confident presentation of research findings both verbally and in writing.

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