What is bloating?

Bloating occurs in your abdomen (stomach). When you are bloated, you feel as if you’ve eaten a big meal and there is no room in your stomach. It can be painful or uncomfortable. Your stomach may actually look bigger. It can make your clothes fit tighter.

Symptoms of bloating

Symptoms include stomach pain, discomfort, and gas. 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).
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Fever (due to an infection).

If you have these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible.

What causes bloating?

Bloating can be caused by something as simple as the food you eat and lactose intolerance (problems with dairy). Other simple reasons include:

  • Swallowing air (which can happen when you chew gum).
  • Constipation.
  • Overeating.
  • Eating too fast.
  • Reflux (GERD).
  • Irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Weight gain.
  • Menstruation (in some women).

More serious causes include:

  • Infection.
  • Inflammation (such as a condition called diverticulitis).
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID).
  • Liver disease (abnormal buildup of fluid in your stomach or pelvis).
  • Crohn’s disease.
  • Blockage in your bowel or bladder.
  • Cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, stomach).

Some medicines used to treat diabetes can also cause bloating.

How is bloating diagnosed?

Your doctor can generally diagnose the cause of your bloating through a physical exam in the office. He also will ask you questions about your symptoms. Your doctor will want to know if your bloating is occasional or if it occurs all the time.

Temporary bloating is usually not serious. If it happens all the time, your doctor may order an imaging test, such as an X-ray or CT scan, to look inside your stomach. If the imaging tests show a blockage, you may need a biopsy to sample it. This involves inserting a certain type of needle into the blockage to collect a tissue sample. Depending upon the cause of the blockage, major surgery may be necessary to remove it.

Can bloating be prevented or avoided?

There are many ways to prevent and avoid bloating, including:

  • Avoid the foods that are known to cause gas, including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, turnips, beans, and lentils.
  • Avoid chewing gum for long periods of time.
  • Reduce or avoid drinking carbonated drinks (such as soda).
  • Reduce or avoid eating and drinking foods and drinks that include fructose or sorbitol. These artificial sweeteners are often found in sugar-free foods.
  • Slow down when you eat.
  • Eat more foods high in fiber to prevent constipation. If foods alone don’t help, consider taking a fiber supplement.
  • Ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines that relieve gas and bloating.
  • Avoid dairy products if you notice they cause gas and bloating.

Bloating treatment

For temporary bloating, ask your doctor about over-the-counter medicines that relieve gas and bloating. Probiotics (such as yogurt) and certain herbal ingredients can relieve your discomfort, too. Herbal ingredients include peppermint and chamomile tea, anise, caraway, coriander, fennel, and turmeric. If your bloating is caused by something more serious, your doctor will treat the underlying cause.

Living with bloating

Living with bloating can be uncomfortable. You may have stomach pain or just a sense of fullness. When it affects how your clothes fit, it can be frustrating. If your bloating is constant, don’t suffer unnecessarily. See your doctor to determine if the cause of the bloating is something more serious.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Do I need a test to diagnose lactose intolerance?
  • Why do certain foods cause my bloating when they never used to?
  • What can I do if I’m diabetic and my medicine or artificial sweeteners cause bloating?

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