Nobody likes to feel bloated; it’s a truly uncomfortable sensation that can make you feel like a straining balloon, ready to pop. And of course, a typical companion of that bloated feeling is gassiness, a state of being that always has you on the verge of committing one of genteel society’s two major social faux pas: belching and flatulence.
What is bloating? And why does it seemingly happen for no reason? The most basic definition is the sensation of having an unwelcome increase in abdominal pressure. In other words, it feels like something has expanded inside your abdomen. There are many different reasons why you might be feeling this, and that’s part of why it can be so disconcerting; humans are generally emotionally distressed when something is happening to their body that they can’t explain.
Abdominal bloating can be both annoying and disruptive to our lives; people often feel down or lethargic when they’re bloated, and they don’t want to participate in social activities. And while the cause of bloating for most people is usually a mild or non-serious issue, it can also be a sign of some medical conditions that are more severe or complicated.
15 Common Causes of Bloating
Once you know the potential cause and how it fits your particular set of symptoms, there are a number of steps you can take to either bring relief or even prevent it in the first place. Below are some of the possible reasons you might be feeling bloated and gassy:
- Eating too Much: As simple as it sounds, eating too much really is one of the most common causes of bloating. Even though our stomachs are expandable, they are still relatively small; so when we eat huge volumes of food, space gets filled up. The situation can be compounded by the fact that digesting some foods can create intestinal gas; this makes for a combo that is highly likely to make you feel bloated.
- Eating too Quickly: Since gas is often the main contributing factor in bloating, it’s important to be aware of how quickly you’re eating. When you scarf your food down, you are inevitably swallowing air along with the food; this air can get trapped in the stomach and build up, eventually leading to bloating.
- Carbonated Beverages: A similar effect to eating too quickly, drinking a lot of carbonated, fizzy drinks like soda can lead to bloating. The carbon dioxide in the beverage gets released in your digestive tract, and the excess gas can lead to bloating.
- FODMAP Foods: This funny-sounded acronym stands for “Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols,” but that’s just a fancy way of referring to some foods that aren’t absorbed well by the small intestine and thus can cause bloating. Some examples of these foods are: beans, broccoli, cauliflower, wheat, lentils, brussels sprouts, cabbage, garlic, onions, apples, and pears. These foods are generally healthy and recommended, but for some people with bloating - particularly those with IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) - a low-FODMAP diet may be recommended by their gastroenterologist.
- Fatty Foods: Heavy foods like bacon, sausage, or cheeseburgers have a lot of fat in them, and, as a consequence, they take longer to digest. A longer digestion time, especially in conjunction with other foods and beverages that promote bloating, can leave you feeling overly full and bloated for hours.
- Being Inactive: As a general rule of thumb, physical activity is beneficial for digestive health because it strengthens the abdominal wall and helps digested food move through your digestive tract. Conversely, being regularly inactive can add to the body’s propensity to be bloated and gassy.
- Sugar Alcohols: Also technically a FODMAP substance, sugar alcohols are found in sugar-free chewing gum and foods that utilize artificial sweeteners like sorbitol. Having too much in your diet can lead to bacteria in your large intestine producing excess gas.
- Constipation: Constipation is a very common ailment and often is accompanied by bloating. This condition can be further complicated because some of the methods often used to treat constipation - eating high-fiber foods, for example - can inadvertently add to the feeling of being bloated. In such a situation, the best solution is to increase your water intake and physical activity.
- Excess Sodium: Too much salt in your diet can lead to water retention, and when you’re retaining water, you will likely feel a bloating sensation in your abdomen and even potentially in your extremities.
- Lactose Intolerance: One of the most common food allergies in the world, lactose intolerance is the inability to digest dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream. The symptoms often include bloating, gas, diarrhea, and other digestive health issues.
- Celiac Disease: Another common food intolerance (and one that has been on the rise in prevalence in recent years) is celiac disease; this condition is defined by the inability to digest gluten, a type of protein found in many cereal grains.
- Fructose Intolerance: This condition involves the malabsorption of fructose (the name for the sugar found in fruits) by the small intestine. Similar to other types of food intolerance, bloating is often accompanied by other gastrointestinal discomforts.
- Intestinal Disorders: Some intestinal disorders, like IBS, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis, are focused on the small and large intestine and often include bloating as a symptom. In most cases, however, bloating will be just one of the numerous symptoms that point to an intestinal disorder.
- Smoking: In addition to the excess air you inevitably swallow while smoking, the toxins in cigarette smoke can irritate the lining of your stomach and actually add to the feeling of being bloated.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol is bad for you on many levels, but it also can cause bloating because of the negative impact on gut bacteria that is part of the process of efficiently breaking down food in the intestines.
There are, of course, a wide variety of other potential reasons you might feel bloated. Some conditions, like liver disease, can actually eventually be brought on or be exacerbated by some of the more common causes. The good news is that only being bloated is very likely an isolated incident that can be treated with a variety of home remedies.
How is Bloating Treated?
Many of the potential causes above have an implied course of action in terms of treatment; for example, if you tend to overeat, an improved diet that includes eating smaller meals is virtually guaranteed to help you avoid being bloated.
But if the “damage is already done,” so to speak, then there are several different options for how to feel better quickly:
- Go for a walk: sometimes even mild physical activity can make a huge difference.
- Peppermint capsules: capsules of peppermint oil can actually relax intestinal muscles, allowing digested food and gas to pass through the digestive tract more efficiently.
- Simethicone: over-the-counter anti-gas relief medication that can help with flatulence and belching.
- Beano: contains an enzyme that breaks down some carbs and reduces flatulence.
- Lactase supplement: helpful for those with lactose intolerance, this enzyme breaks down lactose when and allows people to enjoy dairy products.
- Abdominal massage: gentle massage of the abdomen along the path of the large intestine can help move digested food through the digestive tract and improve the feelings of bloating.
As discussed earlier, the vast majority of people who are experiencing bloating will see it resolve itself in relatively short order. But if your bloating seems to come back to haunt you on a regular basis, it might be time to reconsider some diet and lifestyle choices. If you have been experiencing bloating in addition to numerous other symptoms, it would be a good idea to consult a doctor. Contact Needham Gastroenterology Associates to make an appointment with a skilled gastroenterologist.