What Causes Bloating? Reasons for Belly Discomfort

Bloating is a common issue that can be caused by a variety of factors, including gas buildup1, digestive contents backup, recent weight gain, hormonal changes, and other potential causes.1 Bloating can also be linked to food intolerances, infections, chronic conditions like IBS, gastroparesis, and gynecological disorders.2 An overview of the causes of bloating, symptoms, and when to see a doctor is provided, as well as ways to diagnose and treat bloating, including through lifestyle changes, home remedies, and over-the-counter medications.2

Key Takeaways

  • Bloating is a common issue that can have various causes, from gas buildup to hormonal changes and chronic conditions.
  • Lifestyle factors, food intolerances, infections, and digestive disorders can all contribute to abdominal bloating.
  • Treatments for bloating range from home remedies to over-the-counter medications and, in some cases, prescription drugs.
  • Persistent or severe bloating may require medical attention to identify and address the underlying cause.
  • Understanding the potential reasons for bloating can help individuals manage and prevent episodes of uncomfortable belly discomfort.

What causes bloating?

Bloating is a common condition that can occur for a variety of reasons. According to one source, bloating is a feeling of the abdomen being full or stretched, which happens when the organs in the digestive system are stretched due to a buildup of liquid, gas, or solids, or when the abdominal muscles are weak.3 Another source explains that bloating is a common feeling that can be caused by many factors, such as a change in diet.4 The third source adds that bloating is a natural byproduct of digestion, but too much intestinal gas means the digestion process has gone awry, often due to carbohydrate malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, or functional digestive disorders.

  • Consuming prepackaged and fast foods, which are high in salt and can lead to water retention and bloating3
  • Eating simple carbohydrates like white bread, candy, and soft drinks, which enter the bloodstream almost instantly3
  • Drinking sugary sodas, which can contribute to water retention and bloating3
  • Delayed stomach signals, as it can take up to 20 minutes for the stomach to signal fullness to the brain3
  • Significant weight gain of 10 pounds or more in a year, which can impact abdominal volume and leave less room for normal digestive processes3
  • Consumption of high fructose corn syrup, which may lead to gas, bloating, and pain3
  • Dairy sugar intolerance (lactose intolerance)3
  • Excessive fat consumption, which can cause bloating due to longer digestion time3
  • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle or menopause, leading to water retention and bloating3
  • Certain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs, which can cause gas, fluid buildup, and bloating in some individuals3
  • Gluten intolerance, such as in celiac disease, which can cause bloating and other gastrointestinal issues3

It’s important to note that while occasional bloating is usually not a serious concern, persistent or worsening bloating accompanied by other symptoms like weakness, loss of appetite, diarrhea, weight loss, fever, belly pain, or blood in the stool may warrant medical attention.3

Gas and Bloating

Gas is a natural byproduct of the digestive process, but excessive intestinal gas can signal that something has gone awry in the way the body is breaking down and absorbing food.5 Several factors can contribute to excessive gas and bloating, including carbohydrate malabsorption, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), functional digestive disorders, and visceral hypersensitivity.

Carbohydrate Malabsorption

Carbohydrate malabsorption occurs when the body struggles to fully digest certain types of carbohydrates, such as lactose, fructose, and the carbs found in wheat, beans, and other high-fiber foods.6 This can lead to gas, bloating, and other gastrointestinal symptoms as the undigested carbs ferment in the gut.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO, happens when bacteria from the colon migrate and multiply in the small intestine.5 This can cause excessive gas production and other digestive problems.

Functional Digestive Disorders

Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia are characterized by the body’s difficulty in properly digesting and moving food through the gastrointestinal tract, often leading to gas, bloating, and other uncomfortable symptoms.5

Visceral Hypersensitivity

In some individuals, the nerves and muscles of the digestive system become overly sensitive, causing them to feel bloated and gassy even when there is a normal amount of gas present in the body.5

Digestive Contents Buildup

One common cause of bloating is a buildup of digestive contents, including solids, liquids, and gas, within the digestive tract.5 This can occur when there is a backup or restriction in the digestive system, or when the muscles responsible for moving digestive contents along are impaired.

Constipation

Constipation, where backed-up stool in the colon causes recently digested food to remain longer in the intestines, can lead to bloating.5 The accumulation of undigested food and waste products can distend the abdomen and contribute to an uncomfortable, bloated sensation.

Bowel Obstructions

Blockages or obstructions in the digestive tract, such as those caused by tumors, scar tissue, or inflammatory conditions, can also impede the passage of digestive contents and result in bloating.7 These obstructions prevent the normal flow of food, fluids, and gas through the intestines, leading to a buildup that causes the abdomen to feel distended and uncomfortable.

Motility Disorders

Conditions that slow down the movement of contents through the digestive system, known as motility disorders, can similarly contribute to bloating.5 Disorders like intestinal pseudo-obstruction and gastroparesis, which affect the muscles and nerves responsible for moving food and waste, can cause constipation and the accumulation of digestive contents, resulting in abdominal bloating.

digestive contents buildup

Recent Weight Gain

Recent weight gain, such as 10 pounds or more within the last year, can impact abdominal volume and leave less room for normal digestive processes, causing even a normal meal to lead to abnormal bloating.8 The increased abdominal volume, especially in the belly area, can make someone feel bloated due to the weight gain.7

CauseImpact on Bloating
Recent weight gain of 10 pounds or moreDecreased abdominal space for normal digestion, leading to abnormal bloating even with regular meals8
Weight gain, especially in the belly areaIncreased abdominal volume can make someone feel bloated7

While short-term weight fluctuations of 1-2 kilograms within a 3-day period are common due to lifestyle or dietary changes,8 significant weight gain over a longer period can restrict normal digestive functioning and contribute to a persistent, uncomfortable feeling of bloating.

Hormonal Causes of Bloating

Hormonal changes can also contribute to bloating, especially in women. As many as 3 in 4 women report experiencing abdominal bloating before and during their menstrual periods.5 Additionally, women often experience increased bloating during the hormone fluctuations of perimenopause.5 This is because hormones like estrogen can cause water retention, leading to fluid accumulation and abdominal bloating.5

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Estrogen and Progesterone Effects

Female hormones, including estrogen and progesterone, play a crucial role in stomach bloating, affecting various aspects such as fluids, gas, digestive back-up, and visceral sensitivity.5 The fluctuations in these hormones during a woman’s menstrual cycle and the hormonal changes associated with menopause can contribute to the increased prevalence of bloating among women.9

Studies show that around 62% of women experience premenstrual bloating, with half of them also experiencing bloating during their period.9 Women in their 30s and older are more likely to experience symptoms of hormonal bloating due to the increased hormone activity during this stage of life.9

hormonal causes of bloating

To help manage hormonal bloating, health experts recommend at least 150 minutes of exercise weekly.9 Additionally, incorporating foods high in potassium, such as spinach, avocados, bananas, and sweet potatoes, can help balance the effects of sodium in the body and reduce water retention.9 Probiotics can also support healthy digestion and bowel function, providing relief from hormonal bloating and other digestive issues.9

Other Potential Causes

While the more common causes of bloating, such as gas, digestive contents buildup, and hormonal changes, often receive the most attention, there are some less frequent but still important potential reasons for abdominal discomfort. These include ascites, pancreatic insufficiency, gastrointestinal inflammation, and certain types of cancer.5

Ascites

Ascites, a gradual build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity, is often caused by liver disease.5 This accumulation of fluid can lead to a bloated, swollen appearance and sensation in the abdomen.

Pancreatic Insufficiency

Pancreatic insufficiency, a type of pancreatic dysfunction where the pancreas does not produce enough digestive enzymes, can also contribute to bloating.5 Without sufficient enzymes, the digestive process is impaired, leading to a backup of contents and abdominal discomfort.

Gastrointestinal Inflammation

Inflammation of the stomach or intestines, whether due to bacterial infections like H. pylori5 or excessive alcohol consumption, can trigger bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms.

Cancer

While less common, certain types of cancer, including ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, stomach, or mesenteric cancers, have been linked to recurring bouts of bloating.5 Regular check-ups and screening are recommended, especially for those with a family history or other risk factors.

Overall, while occasional bloating is usually not a serious concern, persistent or worsening bloating could be a sign of a more underlying condition and warrants medical attention.3

Food Intolerances and Bloating

Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease, can cause bloating, often accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or stomach pain.10 According to studies, food intolerances and sensitivities are estimated to affect up to 20% of the world’s population,10 with lactose intolerance being particularly prevalent, affecting approximately 65% of the global population.10 Non-celiac gluten sensitivity is also believed to impact anywhere from 0.5% to 13% of the population.10 Removing the problem-causing food from the diet can help resolve the bloating in these cases.

Certain carbohydrates, known as FODMAPs (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols), are poorly absorbed by the body and can lead to IBS-type symptoms like abdominal pain and bloating.11 Examples of high FODMAP foods include cabbage, Brussels sprouts, fruits high in fructose, lactose-based products, foods high in fructans, sugar alcohols, and foods containing galactans.11 Identifying and avoiding these trigger foods through a food intolerance test can help alleviate bloating for those with sensitivities.11

By understanding the link between food intolerances and bloating, individuals can take steps to manage their symptoms and find relief. This may involve eliminating problematic foods from the diet, such as lactose-containing products for those with lactose intolerance, or gluten-containing foods for those with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease.1011 Adopting a FODMAP-friendly diet can also be beneficial for those with IBS-related bloating.11

Bloating from Infections

Stomach infections, whether caused by bacteria like E. coli1 or H. pylori12, or by viruses like norovirus or rotavirus1, can contribute to the uncomfortable feeling of bloating.1 These infections often come with additional symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.1 In most cases, these stomach infections resolve on their own within a few days, but if the symptoms persist for over a week, it is recommended to seek medical attention.1

Bacterial infections like E. coli12 can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and bloating.12 Meanwhile, H. pylori infection is associated with stomach ulcers and sometimes stomach cancer.12 Other viral infections such as norovirus or rotavirus can also lead to gastrointestinal distress and bloating.1

If the bloating from an infection is accompanied by specific symptoms like fever, severe pain, blood in vomit or stool, it is crucial to seek immediate medical care.12 Diagnostic tests such as a complete blood count (CBC), stool analysis, and imaging scans may be necessary to identify the underlying cause and provide appropriate treatment.12

Chronic Conditions Like IBS

Individuals suffering from chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease often experience persistent or recurring bloating, along with other gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.13 In fact, IBS affects both the small and large intestine, leading to these types of disruptive symptoms.13 Additionally, Crohn’s disease, a form of IBD, can impact various parts of the digestive tract and tends to run in families.13

Interestingly, if unexplained weight loss is also present, it is more likely to be Crohn’s disease rather than the more general IBS.13 This is because Crohn’s disease can cause more severe inflammation and damage to the gut, often resulting in malabsorption and unintentional weight loss.13

Addressing the underlying chronic condition through proper medical diagnosis and management is crucial for managing persistent bloating and other troubling digestive symptoms. Treatment options may include dietary changes, medications, and other therapies tailored to the specific condition.14

Chronic ConditionImpact on BloatingAdditional Symptoms
Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)Persistent or recurring bloatingGas, diarrhea, constipation, cramping
Crohn’s Disease (IBD)Persistent or recurring bloatingDiarrhea, unintentional weight loss, malabsorption

Gastroparesis and Bloating

Gastroparesis is a condition where the stomach empties into the small intestine more slowly than normal, leading to symptoms like bloating.15 Causes of gastroparesis include viral infections, chronic diseases like diabetes and hypothyroidism, certain medications, and medical procedures like bariatric surgery.15 Symptoms of gastroparesis besides bloating include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and feeling full all the time.15

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In fact, 76% of gastroparesis patients reported experiencing bloating of at least mild severity.16 Bloating severity was also found to be significantly related to female gender and overweight status in gastroparesis patients.16 Bloating severity correlated with intensity of nausea, postprandial fullness, visible distention, abdominal pain, and altered bowel function.16

Managing gastroparesis and bloating can involve dietary changes focusing on high-protein foods and easy-to-digest vegetables.15 Eating small meals throughout the day can also help.15 Medications like prokinetics such as metoclopramide (Reglan) or erythromycin may be used to improve gastric emptying.15 Surgical procedures and gastric electric stimulators may be recommended for severe cases that do not respond to medications or dietary changes.15

Specific medications to avoid for gastroparesis bloating include diarrhea medications like loperamide, opioids such as codeine or morphine, and fiber supplements like Citrucel and Metamucil.15 Lifestyle changes such as avoiding large meals and solid foods high in fat or fiber can also help manage gastroparesis symptoms.15

Ultimately, consideration for individual cases and consultation with medical professionals are crucial to determine the most appropriate treatment plan for managing gastroparesis and bloating effectively.15

Gynecological Disorders

Certain gynecological problems can also contribute to bloating. For women, the monthly menstrual cycle and hormonal changes during menopause can lead to abdominal discomfort and a feeling of fullness.17 Conditions like endometriosis, where the uterine lining attaches to the stomach or intestines, can cause bloating, cramping, and pelvic pain.17

Interestingly, early-stage ovarian cancer may present with bloating as the primary symptom.17 Ovarian cancer symptoms can include a range of issues like back pain, belly swelling with weight loss, constipation, fatigue, painful intercourse, pelvic or belly pain, period changes, trouble eating, upset stomach, and urinary symptoms.17

The bloating associated with ovarian cancer is often caused by a buildup of fluid called ascites in the abdomen, formed mostly from cancer cells.17 Blockages in the lymphatic drainage system or intestinal blockages caused by the cancer can also contribute to the bloating.17 Persistent bloating lasting more than two weeks a month may be a sign of ovarian cancer, especially if accompanied by other changes in bathroom habits or the abdomen.17

While gynecological disorders are one potential cause of bloating, there are many other possible reasons as well, including gas, digestive contents backup, recent weight gain, hormonal fluctuations, food intolerances, infections, and chronic conditions.1 Seeking medical attention is recommended if bloating becomes persistent or severe, as it could indicate a more serious underlying issue.17

Bloating from Constipation

Constipation, where food contents build up in the gut, can contribute to bloating.5 Causes of constipation include dehydration, lack of dietary fiber, food intolerance, pregnancy, certain medications, and nutrient deficiencies.5 Treating the underlying constipation through lifestyle changes, home remedies, or over-the-counter laxatives can help relieve the associated bloating.

5 Chronic constipation can lead to abdominal pain and bloating due to the fermentation of stool by bacteria in the colon.4 This digestive build-up can leave less room for gas processing, contributing to bloating.5

Causes of ConstipationTreatments for Constipation-Related Bloating
– Dehydration
– Lack of dietary fiber
– Food intolerance
– Pregnancy
– Certain medications
– Nutrient deficiencies
– Lifestyle changes (e.g., increased water intake, high-fiber diet)
– Home remedies (e.g., peppermint, baking soda, apple cider vinegar)
– Over-the-counter laxatives

4 Chronic constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or gastroparesis may require medical treatment to address bloating symptoms.5 Constipation can be a cause of bloating, whether occasional or chronic due to underlying conditions.

Relieving Bloating at Home

For many people, bloating can be a frustrating and uncomfortable issue, but there are several effective ways to find relief right at home. From making lifestyle changes to trying natural remedies and over-the-counter medications, there are a variety of options to help reduce bloating and get your digestive system back on track.

Lifestyle Changes

One of the first steps in relieving bloating is to make some simple lifestyle adjustments. Drinking more water throughout the day can help flush out excess fluid and prevent constipation, which can contribute to bloating.18 Reducing your intake of sodium, carbonated beverages, and high-carbohydrate foods like bread, pasta, and sweets may also help, as these can all be common culprits behind gas and bloating.18 Additionally, chewing your food thoroughly and eating at a slower pace can aid digestion and minimize air swallowing that can lead to bloating.19 Regular exercise, such as walking or light yoga, can also help release excess gas and relieve bloating.18

Home Remedies

For more immediate relief, there are several natural home remedies that may help reduce bloating. Peppermint tea or essential oil can have a soothing effect on the digestive system, while baking soda mixed with water can help neutralize stomach acid and reduce gas.20 Apple cider vinegar is another popular remedy that may help regulate digestion and alleviate bloating. Applying a warm heating pad or taking a warm bath can also provide temporary relief by relaxing the abdominal muscles.20

Over-the-Counter Medications

If lifestyle changes and home remedies don’t provide sufficient relief, there are several over-the-counter medications that can help address the underlying causes of bloating. Antacids like Tums or Rolaids can neutralize stomach acid and reduce gas buildup.20 Anti-gas supplements containing simethicone can help break up gas bubbles, while digestive enzymes or probiotics may improve overall digestion and reduce bloating.18 Laxatives or stool softeners can also be helpful for relieving constipation-related bloating.18

While occasional bloating is common and often manageable at home, persistent or worsening bloating may require a visit to a healthcare provider to identify and address any underlying medical conditions. Working with a doctor or registered dietitian can help you develop a personalized plan to effectively manage and prevent episodes of bloating.

When to See a Doctor

While occasional bloating is usually not a serious concern, it’s important to see a doctor if your bloating patterns change suddenly, worsen, or persist for an extended period, especially if accompanied by other concerning symptoms.21 Unusual cases of bloating that are painful or disruptive can sometimes be life-threatening, so it’s crucial to seek medical attention if your bloating is accompanied by severe abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, difficulty eating, bloody stools, or unexplained weight loss.21 These could be signs of a more serious underlying condition, such as an infection, bowel obstruction, or certain types of cancer like those affecting the stomach, ovary, colon, or pancreas.20

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It’s also important to see a doctor if your bloating is accompanied by other persistent gastrointestinal issues. For example,22 IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) can cause symptoms like abdominal pain, cramping, discomfort, bloating, and changes in bowel movements, while22 Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) may lead to symptoms such as bloody stools, fatigue, fever, severe diarrhea, and weight loss.22 Gastroparesis, a condition that slows down the movement of food through the digestive tract, can also result in symptoms like bloating, nausea, and bowel obstruction.22

If you experience significant weight changes along with persistent bloating, it could indicate hormonal issues or an underlying liver disease.21 Seeking medical attention is recommended in such cases to determine the root cause and receive appropriate treatment.21

Remember,21 the majority of bloating cases are harmless and can be managed with lifestyle changes and home remedies, but it’s always better to err on the side of caution and consult a healthcare professional if your bloating symptoms are severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning signs.21

Conclusion

In conclusion, what causes bloating can have numerous underlying factors, from excess gas and digestive contents buildup to hormonal changes, food intolerances, and chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). While occasional bloating is usually not a serious concern, persistent or worsening bloating may warrant medical evaluation to identify and address the root cause.23

By understanding the potential reasons for bloating, which can impact 45% of the population23, and adopting lifestyle, dietary, and over-the-counter remedies, many people can effectively manage and prevent episodes of uncomfortable belly discomfort. This may involve adjusting carbohydrate intake, staying hydrated, and trying home remedies like peppermint or baking soda.24

Ultimately, taking a proactive approach to managing and preventing bloating through a combination of self-care and, if necessary, medical intervention can help restore digestive comfort and quality of life. With the right strategies, the 68-72% of IBS patients who experience bloating2324 can find relief and regain control over their gastrointestinal health.

FAQ

What causes bloating?

Bloating can be caused by a variety of factors, including gas buildup, digestive contents backup, recent weight gain, hormonal changes, food intolerances, infections, and chronic conditions like IBS.

What is the difference between gas and bloating?

Gas is a natural byproduct of digestion, but too much intestinal gas means the digestion process has gone awry, often due to carbohydrate malabsorption, bacterial overgrowth, or functional digestive disorders. Bloating is a feeling of the abdomen being full or stretched, which happens when the organs in the digestive system are stretched due to a buildup of liquid, gas, or solids, or when the abdominal muscles are weak.

How can digestive contents buildup cause bloating?

A buildup of digestive contents, including solids, liquids, and gas, can cause bloating when there is a backup or restriction in the digestive tract or when the muscles that move digestive contents along are impaired. Constipation, bowel obstructions, and motility disorders that slow down the movement of contents through the digestive tract can all contribute to bloating.

Can recent weight gain cause bloating?

Yes, recent weight gain, such as 10 pounds or more within the last year, can impact abdominal volume and leave less room for normal digestive processes, causing even a normal meal to lead to abnormal bloating.

How do hormonal changes contribute to bloating?

Hormonal changes, especially in women, can contribute to bloating. Estrogen can cause water retention, and both estrogen and progesterone can affect intestinal gas and visceral sensitivity in the GI tract, leading to bloating before and during menstrual periods, as well as during the hormone fluctuations of perimenopause.

What other potential causes of bloating are there?

Other less common potential causes of bloating include ascites (a build-up of fluid in the abdominal cavity), pancreatic insufficiency, gastrointestinal inflammation, and certain types of cancer like ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, or stomach cancer.

Can food intolerances cause bloating?

Yes, food intolerances such as lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, or celiac disease can cause bloating, often accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea or stomach pain. Removing the problem-causing food from the diet can help resolve the bloating.

How can infections lead to bloating?

Stomach infections, whether caused by bacteria like E. coli or H. pylori, or by viruses like norovirus or rotavirus, can lead to bloating, often accompanied by other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Can chronic conditions cause persistent or recurring bloating?

Yes, chronic conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease can cause persistent or recurring bloating, often along with other symptoms like gas, diarrhea, and vomiting.

How does gastroparesis contribute to bloating?

The condition of gastroparesis, where the nerves regulating stomach motion stop working properly, can cause food to pass much more slowly through the stomach and intestines, leading to bloating. Gastroparesis can be caused by diseases like diabetes or hypothyroidism, as well as certain gastrointestinal surgeries.

What gynecological problems can cause bloating?

Some gynecological problems that can cause bloating include the monthly menstrual cycle, hormonal changes during menopause, endometriosis, and early-stage ovarian cancer.

How can constipation contribute to bloating?

Constipation, where food contents build up in the gut, can contribute to bloating. Causes of constipation include dehydration, lack of dietary fiber, food intolerance, pregnancy, certain medications, and nutrient deficiencies.

What are some ways to relieve bloating at home?

Home remedies for relieving bloating include lifestyle changes like drinking more water, reducing sodium and carbohydrate intake, chewing food slowly, and exercising regularly. Home remedies like peppermint, baking soda and water, apple cider vinegar, and applying a heating pad may also provide relief. Over-the-counter medications like antacids, anti-gas supplements, laxatives, and digestive enzymes can also help address the underlying causes of bloating.

When should you see a doctor for bloating?

You should see a doctor if bloating patterns change suddenly, worsen, or persist for an extended period, particularly if accompanied by symptoms like intense pain, fever, vomiting, difficulty eating, bloody stools, or unexplained weight loss. These could be signs of a more serious underlying condition that requires medical attention.

Source Links

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