Bloating occurs when gas builds up inside the abdomen as digestion occurs. Bloating can result in discomfort, pain, a distended abdomen, or excessive gas (flatulence). In most instances, bloating is a benign symptom, easily preventable or treatable, but severe, persistent or chronic bloating may indicate a more serious digestive disturbance. When bloating is an ongoing symptom, or when it is accompanied by worsening heartburn, abdominal or chest pain, blood in the stool, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, or weight loss, a physician should be immediately consulted.
Causes of Bloating
Much of the time, the reasons for bloating are easily addressed, but because frequent bloating may, at times, indicate potentially dangerous disorders, the symptom should not be ignored.
Most Common Causes of Bloating
In most cases, bloating is simply a result of eating too much or eating too quickly. Other contributing factors may include:
- Eating foods with high fat or carbohydrate content
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Drinking through straws
- Being overweight
- Having a small overgrowth of bacteria in the digestive tract
- Swallowing air
Food allergies and intolerances may also cause problems with bloating, the most common of these being lactose intolerance.
More Serious Causes of Bloating
More serious causes of bloating include:
- Ascites, an accumulation of abdominal fluid
- Gastroesophageal reflux (GERD)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Celiac disease
- Dumping syndrome
- Pancreatic disease
- Ovarian cancer
Bloating may also be a side effect of certain oral medications for diabetes or some artificial sweeteners, like sorbitol.
Prevention of Bloating
In the majority of cases, bloating problems can be prevented if the patient makes some or all of these behavioral and dietary changes:
- Eating less at one time
- Eating more slowly
- Avoiding chewing gum
- Avoiding carbonated beverages
- Avoiding smoking
- Avoiding gas-producing foods (cauliflower, cabbage, beans)
- Avoiding foods that contain individual triggers, like lactose
- Avoiding drinking through straws
Depending on the patient's other associated symptoms, bloating may be prevented by taking laxatives or fiber to relieve constipation, although excessive fiber may exacerbate bloating. Medications that supply lactase enzymes or to aid in digesting gas-producing foods, such as Beano, may also be of assistance.
Treatment of Bloating
For occasional bloating that occurs despite taking preventative measures, there are products available the can help alleviate the symptom. Many natural products are reputed to assist with relieving the accumulation of gas, including peppermint, chamomile and tumeric. Over-the-counter products designed to relieve gas may also be helpful. These include:
- Bismuth subsalicylate-(Pepto-Bismol)
- Activated charcoal
- Simethicone (Gas-X)
When these simple methods are ineffective, or the symptom of bloating in ongoing or extreme, a physician should always be consulted since a serious underlying condition may require immediate treatment.