What is Abdominal Bloating, And Its Causes?
There are many causes of abdominal bloating, including fluid retention, irritable bowel syndrome, and infection. However, for most people, the cause of bloating is harmless and can be treated at home. Abdominal bloating — an uncomfortable, full feeling in the belly area — can be alarming, particularly when painful. The abdomen can look larger than usual or be shaped abnormally. People may also have pierced abdominal pain. Yet, most times, the cause may just be indigestion or gas building up in the stomach and gut.
Usually, bloating is not a concern if it:
- Is associated with food or eating
- Does not get worse with time
- Goes away within a day or 2
This article looks at the causes of abdominal bloating, treatments, and how to know when to see a doctor.
ABDOMINAL BLOATING CAUSES
Abdominal bloating is common. Many people experience the same type of bloating again and again. Normally, bloating that follows a predictable pattern is not a worry. When the pattern changes or bloating becomes worse than expected, it may be one of the following conditions:
Gas: A buildup of gas in the stomach and intestines is among the most common causes of bloating. Other symptoms include:
- Frequent burping
- Passing too much gas
- Feeling a sudden urge to pass stool
- Feeling nauseous
Bloating caused by gas may cause mild discomfort up to intense pain. Some people describe feeling that there is something trapped inside their stomach.
Possible Causes of Gas Include:
- Certain foods, including carbonated beverages, dairy, beans, cauliflower, broccoli, and cabbage
- Swallowing air while eating or chewing gum
- A stomach infection
- Chronic illnesses, such as celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
In most cases, gas goes away on its own after a few hours.
Indigestion: Indigestion, sometimes called dyspepsia, is discomfort or pain in the stomach that can include bloating. Most people experience brief episodes of indigestion from time to time.
It is often caused by:
- Eating too much
- Drinking excessive alcohol
- Taking medications that irritate the stomach, such as ibuprofen
- A minor stomach infection
Frequent indigestion with bloating that does not appear to be associated with food, or other apparent causes could be a sign of something more serious. Potential serious causes are a stomach ulcer or stomach cancer.
Infection: Stomach infections can cause bloating, which may be accompanied by:
- Stomach pain
These can be caused by bacteria such as Escherichia coli or Helicobacter pylori — or a viral infection such as norovirus or rotavirus.
Stomach infections usually go away on their own after a few days. However, some people may become severely dehydrated or continue to get worse over several days.
These individuals should see a doctor if the bloating coincides with:
- Bloody stool
- Severe and frequent vomiting
Gastroparesis: Gastroparesis is a disorder that affects regular stomach emptying. As a result, the nerves that regulate stomach motion stop working correctly, which causes food to pass much more slowly through the stomach and intestines. Symptoms include:
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Pain and discomfort
Diseases such as diabetes or hypothyroidism sometimes cause gastroparesis.
Common symptoms of bloating include stomach pain, discomfort, and gas. You may also burp or belch frequently or have abdominal rumbling or gurgling.
Severe bloating may occur along with other serious symptoms, such as:
- Blood in your stool
- Noticeable weight loss (without trying)
- Vaginal bleeding (between your periods or if you are postmenopausal)
- Heartburn that is getting worse
- Fever (due to an infection)
Bloating can usually be safely treated at home by using lifestyle changes, home remedies, or over-the-counter (OTC) medications.
Keeping a food diary to monitor bloating is helpful as these aids in diagnosing food intolerances and making healthy lifestyle changes. Many people find that avoiding certain foods prevents bloating and other gastrointestinal health issues.
Some options that may help include:
- Drink more water
- Reduce Trusted Sourcesodium in the diet
- Eliminate foods that cause bloating
- Chew food slowly
- Eliminate chewing gum
- Regular exercise
- Eating peppermint
- Drinking a mixture of baking soda and water
- Drinking apple cider vinegar
- Applying a heating pad to the stomach
- Antigas products to break up gas pockets (simethicone)
- Food supplements to break down problem proteins or sugars (Beano, Lactaid)
- Antacids to calm excess acid (Tums, Mylanta, Maalox)
- Bismuth salicylate to inhibit bacterial infection (Pepto-Bismol)
- Laxative to relieve constipation (Dulcolax or Senakot)
- Rectal suppository or enema to have a bowel movement (Fleet)
A doctor may also prescribe:
- Antispasmodics can relax the muscles and help relieve bloating
- Certain antibiotics in cases of IBS or bacterial overgrowth in the abdomen
- Prokinetics can speed up digestion, which may reduce bloating
- Certain antidepressants such as citalopram (Celexa) may help reduce bloating
WHEN TO SEE A DOCTOR
Rarely bloating is a sign of something more serious. A person should see a doctor for bloating or gas associated with:
- Intense pain
- A fever
- Vomiting lasts longer than 24 hours
- Difficulty keeping food down
- Bloody stools
- A physical injury, such as a punch to the stomach or a car accident
- Rapid swelling of the abdomen
- Liver or kidney failure
Abdominal bloating can be upsetting and painful. There are many simple causes of abdominal bloating, such as gas, constipation, indigestion, food intolerance, and fluid retention.
These symptoms are easily treated with home remedies, lifestyle changes, OTC medications, and prescription medications.
For most people, the cause can be treated at home and is something simple. A person should speak with a gastroenterologist doctor if the symptoms worsen or do not go away after a few days.