Bloated Stomach Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

Bloated Stomach Causes, Symptoms and Treatments


Bloated stomach - Dr. Axe

Stomach bloating is so common these days that it’s been called an “epidemic.” If you frequently deal with distention, digestive discomfort and a bloated stomach, you probably want to know: Why do I feel bloated all the time?

With most people’s poor diets, high levels of stress, need for daily medications and exposure to various pollutants, it’s no wonder they suffer some sort of bloating more days than not.

While a bloated stomach is certainly uncomfortable — even embarrassing when it comes along with gas or the need to run to the bathroom — it might be an even bigger deal than you think. Below we’ll look closer at reasons you may deal with an inflated belly, plus discuss bloated stomach remedies, such as foods to focus on and those to avoid.

Causes

What is stomach bloating a sign of? Can it point to an underlying health condition?

Luckily, in many cases, it isn’t anything to be alarmed about. It can usually be cleared up by making some simple changes to your diet and routine, although not always.

For many people, the cause of excessive gas in the intestines boils down to:

  • Inadequate protein digestion (causing some foods to ferment)
  • Inability to break down sugar and carbohydrates fully (certain complex sugar compounds need the presence of enzymes to be digested fully, yet people can lack these)
  • Imbalances in gut bacteria (in the digestive tract, there are trillions of healthy and unhealthy bacteria that compete, and when “bad bacteria” outweigh the good for one reason or another, an imbalance can lead to abdominal bloating and excessive gas)

Stomach bloating can however sometimes signify serious health problems lurking below the surface. For example, it’s one of the most common candida symptoms and also tends to develop when from other conditions, including allergies, hormonal imbalances, thyroid dysfunction, gut troubles and inflammatory bowel disease.

Other potential causes of bloating can include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome, especially if you’re constipated
  • Digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
  • Fluid retention
  • Dehydration
  • Constipation
  • Food allergies or sensitivities, including celiac disease or lactose intolerance
  • SIBO
  • Infection in the gut
  • Bowel obstruction
  • Hormonal changes
  • Certain types of cancer

Many different things can affect gut health, the ability to metabolize food properly and the body’s way of naturally eliminating waste. Because so many different factors can contribute to stomach bloating — including some that seem totally unrelated, like sleep or stress — it’s possible to become bloated any time of the day or month.

Contrary to what most people think, bloating is not the same as carrying around extra fat mass or even “water weight.” Fluids can’t actually accumulate in your stomach, although you might be bloated and have water retention in other parts of your body (like your ankles, face and feet) while also having a bloated stomach if you have a condition that’s causing both.

Here’s more about some of the most common causes of bloating:

1. Digestive Disorders

Most people dealing with various functional gastrointestinal disorders like IBS, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease have bloating, gas, distension and other symptoms. Some reports show that stomach bloating is experienced by 23 percent to 96 percent of people with IBS, 50 percent with functional dyspepsia and 56 percent with chronic constipation.

2. Fluid Retention (Called Edema or Ascites)

Fluid retention in the abdomen is known as ascites, and it can be a sign of a more serious health condition, such as abdominal infection, liver disease or rarely even cancer.

Check for other signs of liver failure or hepatitis, including yellowing of the skin (jaundice), changes in the white color of your eyes or pain in the abdomen.

Stomach cancer often does not show symptoms early on. hHowever, in addition to bloating, you may experience unintended weight loss, indigestion, nausea, vomiting blood and abdominal pain.

3. Dehydration

Ever notice the day after you ate salty foods or drank alcohol that you become dehydrated and bloated as a result? It might seem counterintuitive, but the more water you drink (or consume in water-heavy foods) and better you stay hydrated, the less bloating you’re likely to deal with.

Dehydration and electrolyte imbalances both halt digestion and make it hard to “stay regular.”

When your body tries to recover from dehydration, it holds on to excess water to prevent the situation from happening again. Plus, you might find yourself becoming constipated. This means when you do finally drink more fluids, you’re likely to store them around your midsection and feel extra puffy.

4. Constipation

This might be the most obvious reason you have a bloated stomach — you need to go to the bathroom! Constipation can cause stool to remain in the intestines, leaving you with a hard-feeling stomach, pain, discomfort and gas.

The biggest reasons for constipation include eating too little fiber, not drinking enough water, being too sedentary/avoiding physical activity and stress.

5. Food Allergies or Sensitivities

Often, food allergies, sensitives or intolerances (like lactose intolerance) are common reasons for gas and bloating. The foods that cause gas include dairy products, gluten-containing foods (most bread, pasta, rolls, cereals, etc.) and certain kinds of carbohydrates called FODMAPs.

There are dozens of other possible food allergies (like shellfish, nuts and eggs), but you’re likely to know if this is what you’re reacting to since symptoms are usually more noticeable. FODMAPs can be tricky to rule out since there are so many different kinds and everyone is unique in terms of tolerability.

An elimination diet can help you pinpoint which foods might cause bloating (like apples or avocados, for example) because they’re not being properly broken down and digested.



6. SIBO

Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is caused by high levels of abnormal bacteria living in the digestive tract, usually in the bowel (dysbacteriosis), where they can accumulate after taking antibiotics or due to inflammation and poor digestion.

Normally, different strains of bacteria are in proper balance in the colon. This helps with absorption of essential nutrients, but when harmful bacteria invade and take over, damage of the stomach lining can occur along with numerous symptoms.

Some foods are capable of causing SIBO symptoms and related sensitivities in the digestive tract, including FODMAPS, which in some cases can ferment abnormally during digestion.

7. Infection

You can become bloated and swollen or develop ascites if you’re dealing with an infection because this triggers inflammation levels to rise, caused by an elevated white blood cell count around the pelvic, urinary and gastrointestinal organs. Check for signs of a fever, redness and pain, and swollen lymph nodes, which usually accompany a serious infection.

8. Bowel obstruction

Sometimes a severely bloated stomach (though it isn’t actually your stomach that’s bloated) — along with constipation, nausea and vomiting — is due to a bowel obstruction. This can be caused by scar tissue or a tumor in either the small intestine or the colon, among other causes.

When it grows and presses against the bowel, the bowels become blocked and hold in fluid and stool. You’ll likely know this is what you’re dealing with, since it’s usually very painful and stops you from going to the bathroom normally.

It’s important to see your doctor and get medical treatment right away if you suspect a bowel obstruction. This condition can lead to a ruptured bowel, which is a potentially fatal medical emergency.

9. Hormonal changes

PMS is known to cause a bloated abdomen and digestive issues, since it makes you prone to constipation and fluid retention. This is common and not too much of a concern unless you notice other serious symptoms, like an irregular menstrual cycle, fibroids or severe cramping.

Having a bloated stomach before or during your period can differ depending on your cycle, and some women experience severe water retention for up to two weeks.

Why do women experience bloating before, during and after their menstrual cycles? During the early days of a woman’s cycle — sometimes called the follicular stage — estrogen levels rise while the uterine lining thickens. Bloating can also become stronger as ovulation occurs and more fluids and blood build up.

Normally when a woman has her period, she experiences shedding of the excess fluid, tissue and blood. This usually results in the bloating going away.

10. Cancer

While it’s not the cause of most people’s bloating, one sign of cancer in the colon or uterus is bloating. This is why it’s important to talk to a doctor if you’ve tried all other ways of reducing bloating and digestive issues but still can’t seem to pinpoint what’s causing your symptoms.

Symptoms

Having a bloated stomach is different from gaining actual fat mass around your stomach, since bloating is temporary and mostly caused by air becoming stuck around your abdomen, making it distend outward.

Simply put, being “bloated” is the feeling of having built-up gas in your digestive system that makes your stomach protrude uncomfortably. It usually causes some type of abdominal pain. Some people even kid around and joke that they “look pregnant” when their abdominal bloating becomes very bad.

Sometimes bodily fluids can be stored around the body, including near the abdomen or pelvis area. This causes excess bloating and temporary weight gain.

You might also notice jewelry and clothes becoming tighter, extra swelling, and pain around joints or tightness in the skin.

Along with feeling full, gassy and having pain in your abdomen, you should check if your bloated stomach occurs simultaneously with other symptoms throughout the body. This can clue you in on what’s causing the problem and whether it might be serious enough to contact your doctor, including:

  • A fever
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Watery eyes, itchy throat and other signs of allergic reaction
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Vomiting or nausea
  • Blood in your urine or stool
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Trouble going to the bathroom
  • Pain around your lymph nodes, including in your groin, throat or armpits
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog and trouble concentrating
  • Irregular periods
  • Hemorrhoids

Bloated stomach symptoms - Dr. Axe

How to Get Rid of a Bloated Stomach

One of the most effective bloated stomach remedies is improving your diet, since the foods you eat play a huge part in regulating how much air and poop is trapped inside your digestive tract.

To keep things “flowing” smoothly, you want to make sure to eat a high-fiber diet, aiming for about 25–30 grams every day or even more.

This isn’t too difficult when you eat plenty of whole foods, including veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes and ancient grains. It can certainly help you to track your symptoms after eating certain foods known to cause bloating, but remember that a bloated stomach is caused by your entire lifestyle, not just the food on your plate.

Some of the best foods for helping to battle stomach bloating include:

  • Probiotics: “Good bacteria” called probiotics act like friendly gut bugs in your digestive tract, killing off bad bacteria that can trigger digestive issues and reactions. You can take probiotic supplements, but acquiring them from natural probiotic foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, yogurt, kefir and kombucha is also beneficial.
  • Raw dairy: In the case of dairy, I always recommend consuming raw dairy as opposed to the conventional kind sold in supermarkets, which has been pasteurized/homogenized. Manufacturing processes can kill enzymes that are needed for proper digestion, even to the point that some people who think they have symptoms of lactose intolerance can consume raw dairy products without having negative reactions. It also helps to avoid flavored yogurts, which have artificial ingredients, to consume aged/raw cheeses instead of soft cheese, and to consume kefir/yogurt instead of milk, which are lower in lactose.
  • Water-rich fruits and veggies: Veggies and fruits that provide water, key electrolytes and beneficial enzymes are your best friends when it comes to relieving stomach bloating naturally. Try eating more raw or cooked leafy greens, cucumber, celery, fennel, artichoke, melon, berries, steamed veggies and cultured/fermented vegetables.
  • Herbs, spices and teas: Natural digestion-soothing herbs like ginger, dandelion, aloe vera and fennel have been used for thousands of years to soothe an uncomfortable belly. Many herbs act like diuretics and help the body release extra fluid, while some, like ginger, can also help the digestive system release its contents and relax the muscles in the GI tract, which relieves constipation. Try eating fresh-ground herbs of all kinds (parsley, oregano, rosemary, etc.), fresh peeled ginger root, aloe vera juice, herbal teas, or using essential oils. Don’t forget that bone broth and green tea are also anti-inflammatory and great choices for promoting gut health.

Now that you know what you should eat, let’s look at some of the foods that might make your bloating even worse. More often than not, some of these foods might be the culprit:

  • Sugar and sweetened snacks: Sugar easily ferments in the gut, can contribute to candida overgrowth and promotes inflammation.
  • Most dairy products: These include flavored yogurts with sugar and artificial ingredients, but also other kinds since modern-day manufacturing processes can remove important enzymes in dairy.
  • Refined grains and grain products: Gluten is difficult to digest for many people, and so are corn, oats and other grains in some cases.
  • In some cases difficult-to-digest veggies like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onion and even garlic: These contain sulfur and certain types of FODMAP carbohydrates.
  • Beans and legumes, which can promote gas
  • Carbonated drinks
  • Chewing gum
  • In some cases, certain types of fermentable fruit, including apples, peaches/other stone fruit and avocados can cause bloating.
  • Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols: These include aspartame, sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol.

Bloated stomach diet - Dr. Axe

Other Tips

Here are other tips regarding how to get rid of a bloated stomach:

1. Talk to Your Doctor

Because so many different conditions and factors can cause a bloated stomach, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor and have some tests run if you can’t figure out the underlying issue.

There isn’t one diagnostic test for determining the cause of bloating, but your doctor might decide to gather more information by running tests such as:

  • stool analysis
  • blood test
  • ultrasound to check for blockages
  • test to check for transit follow-through
  • enema and gastric emptying tests
  • esophageal manometry
  • breath test
  • endoscopy or colonoscopy with biopsies

2. Get Some Exercise

Being active helps your digestive system function optimally, since it can fight constipation, keep circulation moving and move lymphatic fluid throughout your body. It essentially helps you “detox.”

Try to get the most benefits from exercise by doing something active most days of the week for at least 30–60 minutes. And skip the sugary sports drinks afterward!

Wondering if your workout can ever make you more bloated? In some cases it can, especially if you overdo it.

Overtraining causes the body to go into a stressful state. This causes the the adrenal glands to release more of the stress hormone cortisol.

Make sure your exercise routine supports your overall health and makes you feel better, not the opposite, causing disturbed fluid levels, poor digestion and added stress.



3. Drink Enough Water

What relieves bloating fast? One way to relieve discomfort quickly is to drink water if you’re dehydrated. Fluids also help make sure fiber can do its job correctly.

There’s no magic number that is going to be the right amount for you, but start by having at least six to eight glasses a day. Staying hydrated is essential for beating bloating, but when it comes to beverage choices, choose wisely.

Carbonated drinks, especially if they’re loaded with artificial ingredients and sweeteners, can cause bloating to become even worse. Alcohol can also make you bloated, and caffeinated drinks, too, for some people.

Your best bet is plain water, water infused with fresh fruit slices or herbs (like lemon, grapefruit, basil, etc.), or herbal tea.

4. Reduce Stress

Ever notice how when you’re nervous, tired, sad or overwhelmed, your digestion is a total mess? Stress and anxiety impact digestion in a big way. That’s because your gut and your brain communicate very closely via the vagus nerve, aka your “gut-brain connection.”

Within the lining of your gastrointestinal tract lives a network of circuitry tissue that communicates via hormonal and chemical messages to your central nervous system, called the enteric nervous system (ENS). Your brain triggers the ENS to produce enzymes, saliva and secretions to help with digestion, along with controlling hormones responsible for your appetite.

Being anxious or sad can cause changes in this line of communication. Your brain then diverts attention away from proper digestion in an effort to conserve energy and use it elsewhere.

High amounts of stress increase cortisol levels. This can alter blood sugar levels and change the way that other hormones are secreted, sometimes causing you to become overly hungry, constipated and to store fluids.

On top of this, being stressed doesn’t make it very easy to eat a healing diet and instead usually leaves you reaching for comfort foods that commonly trigger bloating. Combine a sluggish metabolism and digestive system with too many heavy foods, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

The solution? Do what you can to practice mindful eating and to lower stress however possible, including exercise, meditation, prayer and spending more time doing things you love.

Related: Does Histamine Intolerance Cause Allergies, Headaches & Bloating?

Conclusion

  • Bloating is most often temporary and caused by air becoming stuck around your abdomen, making it distend outward.
  • In many cases, the cause can include inadequate protein digestion, inability to break down sugar and carbohydrates fully, imbalances in gut bacteria, stress, and hormonal issues. Some medications and underlying conditions can also cause bloating, including IBS, allergies and inflammatory bowel disease.
  • How do I de-bloat my stomach? One of the most effective bloated stomach remedies is improving your diet. Make sure to eat a high-fiber diet, aiming for about 25–30 grams every day or even more, and to drink plenty of water/fluids.
  • Look for other symptoms that may indicate an underlying cause, such as severe constipation, fluid retention, pain, etc.
  • Exercising, discussing medication use with your doctor and managing stress can also help.





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