Every one of us has felt the unsettling sensation of a bloated stomach at some point, which can be embarrassing. This discomfort is referred to as "bloating," which is caused by slow-moving gas that has been trapped somewhere in our gastrointestinal tract (GI tract).
Bloating is a normal part of the human digestive process. It is fairly common among people and rarely indicates any serious problem. However, if your stomach is constantly swollen or you are feeling discomfort, this might be related to an underlying health condition.
Bloating can become bothersome for many individuals. Learning about how to follow the right tips, such as exercise and lifestyle changes, could help reduce bloating and prevent its recurrence.
About bloating belly
Bloating is the sensation of tightness, overstretching, or fullness in your stomach. It happens when excessive gas builds up somewhere in the digestive tract. This can be accompanied by distention, which may cause your stomach to appear larger than usual. The bloating belly can cause mild to severe discomfort.
What is a bloating belly?
Bloating is one of the most common conditions complained of by a large population of individuals. The bloating can be visible, cause uncomfortable abdominal distention, and sometimes even cause pain. It can also be linked with other gastric complaints such as burping, stomach rumbling, and flatulence (passing gas).
Several factors can result in bloating, including swallowing a lot of air (aerophagia), over-consumption of food, intestinal gas, or weakened activity of muscles present in the wall of your belly.
Bloating is mostly considered a digestive issue. However, hormones, stress, and an underlying medical condition can also play a part.
Many factors might contribute to bloating and make it harder to digest. It could be the result of overeating or eating too rapidly. Other potential causes include:
- Excessive gas caused by changes in diet
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Fluid retention
- Celiac disease
- Food intolerance usually involves sensitivity to wheat, gluten, or milk (lactose intolerance)
- Hormonal changes—before menstruation, during menopause or early pregnancy.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Eating disorders
- Certain viral infections, such as rotavirus
- Bacterial infections - H.pylori
- Ascites - the gradual build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity
- Gynaecological issues - endometriosis
- Weight gain
- Bowel obstructions
Who is at risk?
Bloating is typically common, and for most people, it resolves after a short period. Though some people who might have certain conditions may be at higher risk of bloating in comparison to others. Some of the following factors include:
- Food intolerance: People who are sensitive to certain foods are more likely to experience bloating symptoms. Common culprits like lactose, fructose, gluten, peanuts, wheat, and beans lead to gastrointestinal upset. People who experience such food sensitivities are unable to digest them properly, which results in bloating.
- Constipation: Chronic constipation causes stools to remain in the intestines, meaning that recently digested food content stays within the colon for a longer period, which leads to bloating. According to a study, nearly 80% of patients with constipation experience bloating and distention.1
- Digestive disorders: Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and dyspepsia (indigestion) can often cause gas and bloating.
- Bacterial overgrowth: Abnormal levels of bacterial growth, such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), cause bloating. This happens when the gut bacteria from the colon surge into the small intestines, which throws off the balance of bacteria in the gut.
- Motility dysfunction: Gastroparesis is a type of motility disorder that can cause bloating belly symptoms. In this condition, muscular contractions do not work properly, leading to the slow emptying of digestive contents.
- Psychological factors: According to a study review, psychological issues such as stress, depression, and anxiety may coexist with or aggravate digestive disturbances. Furthermore, bloating is generally common among people who suffer from psychiatric conditions like anorexia nervosa and bulimia.2
- Visceral hypersensitivity: People who are prone to visceral hypersensitivity often feel gassy and bloated. It is a condition in which the pain threshold in the internal organ is low. It mostly correlates with IBS and other functional digestive disorders that cause bloating symptoms.
Is this a common condition?
Bloating is very common. A study has indicated that around 10–25% of healthy individuals experience bloating.2 Moreover, it is particularly prevalent among people who have irritable bowel syndrome and constipation.3
How to reduce a bloating belly
Bloating and abdominal distention can be uncomfortable experiences. Fortunately, implementing simple changes can help to overcome the condition and reduce the bloated belly effectively.
- Physical activity: Exercise helps bowel movement, and excessive sitting or a sedentary lifestyle can make food digestion difficult. Being active increases blood flow and provides immediate relief from bloating.
- Yoga: Trying different yoga postures helps position the abdominal muscles. This encourages the release of entrapped gas in the GI tract.
- Abdominal massage: abdominal massages are a great way to reduce bloating and discomfort
- Increase your fibre intake: Fibre can help you avoid constipation and bloating in the long run. Food options like leafy greens, carrots, strawberries, and oats are excellent sources of fibre
- Avoid fizzy drinks: Fizzy drinks and sodas cause stomach bloating. It is advised to avoid drinks with artificial sweeteners.
- Avoid chewing gum: Chewing gum contains artificial sugars, which may cause bloating in some individuals.
- Eat in small portions: Many people experience bloating when they eat too much or too fast. Eating small and frequent meals could help to prevent the swallowing of air and enhance digestive activity.
- Try low-FODMAP diets: FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols, the carbohydrates to which some people are sensitive and which aggravate bloating. Following a low-FODMAP diet could help to ease IBS and other digestive disorders.
Other ways include:
- Adding probiotic supplements.
- Cut down your salt intake.
- Taking a warm bath.
- Using essential oils.
- Avoid processed and spicy foods.
- Limit sugar intake.
- Herbal teas.
- Reduce stress.
- Quit smoking.
- Avoid using straws for drinking.
- Take gas relief capsules.
When to consult a medical specialist
Bloating often does not require medical attention. However, if the bloating problems become frequent, severe, or persist for a few weeks, it is advised that you see your medical specialist to rule out any underlying medical causes. Seek medical attention if:
- Experience severe abdominal pain.
- Feeling bloated regularly.
- Persistent bloating, gas, or heartburn for 2 weeks or more.
- Experiencing constipation, diarrhoea, fever, or vomiting.
- Feeling lump or swelling in the abdomen.
- Loss of appetite.
- Notable changes in bowel movements or stool colour.
- Unable to perform daily life activities due to bloating.
- Mucus or blood found in the stool.
- Unexplained weight loss.
Why do I get bloated when I don't eat?
Although most bloating occurs when we consume large amounts of food. Feeling bloated when not eating might indicate that you are possibly skipping meals, specifically breakfast.
Some people have the habit of consuming coffee in the morning instead of breakfast. An empty stomach for a long period causes the stomach to search for something to digest. This eventually leads to gas production. Furthermore, skipping one meal also means that you are going to eat more than your stomach can handle, resulting in more bloating.
Does lemon water help with bloating?
Drinking lemon water is one of the most common and effective remedies. Most people tend to believe that skipping fluid intake when bloated helps. On the contrary, drinking plenty of water helps to debloat and relieve other digestive symptoms.
If you are suffering from bloating, it is advised to increase your fluid intake. Lemon is a natural diuretic and can act as a gentle laxative when mixed with warm water. Consuming lemon water enhances digestion, prevents dehydration, and releases excess stomach gas.
Does coffee cause bloating?
For some people, drinking large amounts of coffee can irritate the stomach lining, which may lead to bloating, and it is also likely that people may experience constipation or diarrhoea as well.
Also, people with lactose intolerance should avoid adding milk-based additives to their coffee. Such additives could act as bloating culprits, making it harder for the body to digest the contents.
Bloating is a feeling of tightness and fullness in the stomach. It is a common and troublesome symptom often complained of by a large number of people. A bloated belly is usually harmless and does not require medical attention. However, if the feeling of tightness in the abdomen persists for a couple of weeks, it is advised to seek medical consultation.
Many people around the globe experience bloating at some point. It can sometimes have embarrassment-inducing gas consequences. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce bloating, which can also be effective in preventing its recurrence. It is often advised first to identify the symptom's culprit and try to eliminate it through healthy lifestyle and dietary changes.
In some cases, the bloating cause may require more than a lifestyle change. People with underlying digestive disorders such as gastroparesis, IBS, or bowel obstructions might require proper medical intervention.
- Iovino P. Bloating and functional gastro-intestinal disorders: Where are we and where are we going? World Journal of Gastroenterology [Internet]. 2014;20(39):14407. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202369/
- Sullivan SN. Functional Abdominal Bloating with Distention [Internet]. ISRN Gastroenterology. 2012. Available from: https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/721820/
- Understanding Bloating and Distension - IFFGD [Internet]. Available from: https://iffgd.org/gi-disorders/symptoms-causes/bloating-and-distensio