Bloating is an uncomfortable sensation of abdominal pressure, tightness, or trapped gas. Bloating can cause visible abdominal swelling (distension), but you can have gas bloating even if your belly isn’t swollen. Typically, bloating doesn’t indicate a serious health condition. Often, simple dietary and lifestyle changes can resolve it.
What Causes Bloating?
Bloating can be caused by:
Excess intestinal gas
This is the most common cause of bloating. Adults usually pass gas throughout the day. If you can’t release gas, it can painfully accumulate in your intestines. Gas can build up when you swallow too much air from:
- Chewing food.
- Chewing gum.
- Loose dentures.
- Eating or drinking too quickly.
- Eating rich, fatty, or heavily salted food.
- Eating processed foods.
- Carbonated beverages.
Too much fiber
When gut bacteria digest fiber, it’s normal for them to produce gas. Foods with excessive fiber can produce too much gas, causing flatulence and bloating.
These foods include:
- Whole grains such as wheat, oats, and wheat bran.
- Vegetables including broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower.
- Fruits such as apples, peaches, and prunes.
- Legumes including baked beans, peas, and lentils.
If you have a food intolerance, your body has trouble digesting certain foods, resulting in gas bloating. These sensitivities include:
- Lactose intolerance – Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest dairy products properly. It’s one of the most common food sensitivities.
- Fructose intolerance – Fructose is a natural sweetener in fruit, honey, and many processed foods. Fructose intolerance, or malabsorption, happens when your intestines can’t break down the fructose you eat.
- Non-celiac gluten intolerance – Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley. Non-celiac gluten intolerance is a condition that prevents the normal processing or absorption of gluten. This condition can cause gas bloating and other digestive issues. Simple dietary changes usually resolve it.
- Artificial sweetener intolerance – Artificial sweeteners have zero calories, so your body may not easily absorb them. In turn, they ferment (create gas), which causes bloating. Artificial sweeteners include Sweet ’N Low, Splenda, and Equal. They also contain sugar alcohols (a type of carbohydrate similar to sugar) such as mannitol, isomalt, and xylitol.
- Sulfite sensitivity – Sulfites are preservatives used in processed meats such as salami, hot dogs, and bacon. They can also be found in foods and drinks, including red wine, condiments, soy products, dried fruits, and certain medications.
Constipation can cause gas bloating because the longer feces linger in your intestine, the longer bacteria can ferment. This translates to bloating and excess gas.
When feces become lodged in your intestine, they can trap gas and prevent it from passing easily. Constipation also causes digested food to remain in the colon longer. Your gut expands to make room for this buildup, resulting in gas bloating.
Fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone levels during a woman’s menstrual cycle and menopause can cause water retention and bloating.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable bowel syndrome affects the large intestine, causing gas bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. Although the causes of IBS and its effect on bloating are unclear, it may relate to gut bacteria that trigger gas and bloating. It’s also thought to be connected to IBS sufferers’ reduced ability to pass gas.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Bacteria are a natural, healthy part of your small intestine. Typically, the small intestine has fewer bacteria than the large intestine. When the small intestine’s bacteria become overgrown, they can cause an imbalance.
These bacteria consume undigested food, and this leads to the production of gasses called hydrogen and methane. When gasses accumulate in your digestive tract, they can cause painful bloating.
Gas bloating can also be related to several serious conditions, including:
A motility disorder is a digestive problem that occurs when your gut’s nerves and muscles aren’t in synch. Normally, rhythmic muscle contractions (peristalsis) transport food through the digestive tract. When you have a motility problem, these contractions are uncoordinated, and food can’t properly travel through the intestines, triggering gas bloating.
Although it’s uncomfortable, bloating is usually temporary. If it gets progressively worse, lasts more than a week, constantly hurts, and is accompanied by bleeding, fever, or vomiting, you may have a serious condition and need to see a doctor. These include:
- Pancreatic insufficiency – When you have pancreatic insufficiency, your pancreas can’t make enough digestive enzymes to digest your food properly. This can lead to gas and bloating.
- Ascites – Ascites is the accumulation of excess fluid in your belly. This pressure can cause discomfort and bloating. Ascites is typically related to a liver disease called cirrhosis. It can also be caused by kidney failure, abdominal cancers, and congestive heart failure.
- Gastritis (stomach inflammation) and enteritis (intestinal inflammation) – These inflammations are connected to the overuse of alcohol, peptic ulcers, or a bacterial infection called H. pylori.
- Celiac disease – Celiac disease is an autoimmune reaction to eating gluten. When you have celiac disease, your body thinks that the gluten you eat is an invader and attacks your small intestine’s lining. The intestine is damaged and can’t absorb nutrients, leading to gas bloating.
- Crohn’s disease – Crohn’s disease is a long-lasting gastrointestinal tract inflammation. It is an autoimmune condition – it attacks your own healthy tissue. One of the symptoms of Crohn’s disease is gas bloating.
- Peptic ulcer – Peptic ulcers are open sores that develop on your stomach lining or the first part of your small intestine.
How Do I Get Relief from Gas Bloating?
If your bloating isn’t caused by a serious underlying condition, you can try the following home treatments:
Peppermint oil relaxes your intestinal walls, allowing gas and feces to pass more easily.
Magnesium fights gas bloating by relaxing your intestinal muscles so that gas can be released. It also neutralizes stomach acid. Be sure not to rely on it too much, though, since it can be habit-forming.
Herbal teas such as chamomile, turmeric, ginger, fennel, and peppermint can relieve bloating by helping to release gas.
Psyllium is a soluble fiber that comes from the husks of the psyllium plant. Metamucil is a well-known psyllium product. It’s called a bulk-forming laxative because it swells as it absorbs water in the intestine and turns into a gel that makes a stool softer and easier to eliminate.
Simethicone breaks up gas pockets in your stomach and intestine so they can be released more easily. Brand names for simethicone include:
- Mylanta Gas.
Other home treatments include:
- Antacids such as Tums and Mylanta.
- Supplements that break down unwanted sugars and proteins, including Lactaid and Beano.
- Laxatives such as MiraLAX or Dulcolax that treat constipation.
- Bismuth salicylate that reduces bacteria growth, including Pepto-Bismol.
Cloves are herbs that can be taken as an essential oil or chewed. They stimulate the production of digestive enzymes that can help reduce gas and bloating. Cloves are considered one of the best natural remedies for combating built-up gas.
Probiotics are live bacteria that help keep your gut healthy. They’re available in pills, but you can also consume them in yogurt, soft cheeses such as Gouda, and sourdough bread. Sometimes, the live bacteria in yogurt have been killed during processing, so select one with active or live cultures.
When you eat, your diaphragm normally rises while your stomach wall contracts. This creates more space in your belly. If your diaphragm descends and your stomach wall expands, air can get trapped and cause bloating. This can be corrected through biofeedback. Biofeedback is a treatment that teaches you how to become aware of and control involuntary bodily functions.
When Should I See a Doctor?
You should see a doctor if your gas or bloating are accompanied by:
- Trouble keeping food down.
- An injury such as a punch to the stomach.
- Vomiting lasting 24 hours or more.
- Severe pain.
- Kidney or liver failure.
- Rapid abdominal swelling.
- Bloody stools.
Contact us today. The team of professionals at GastroMD looks forward to working with you. We are one of the leading gastroenterology practices in the Tampa Bay area. We perform a host of diagnostic procedures using state-of-the-art equipment in a friendly, comfortable, and inviting atmosphere where patient care is always a top priority.