You’ve probably been there: struggling to put on pants over a belly that feels like it’s got a blown-up balloon inside of it. This is a typical experience of someone who’s bloated, experienced by 16 to 30 percent of the population in their daily lives. As common as it is, it’s extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient—but, most importantly, easily fixable, provided it’s not a sign of an underlying health condition.
Here’s everything you need to know about bloating and how to reduce or eliminate it.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is what happens when there’s too much air or gas in your gastrointestinal tract. Common in women, it may sometimes be confused for abdominal wall laxity, which is actually when a woman’s belly sticks out more after birth, or naturally because of age.
Symptoms of Bloating
Typical symptoms of bloating include gas and stomach pain or discomfort, like your belly feeling full, tight, or misshapen. You may also experience frequent burping or gurgling in your stomach.
Bloating is what happens when there’s too much air or gas in your gastrointestinal tract.
What Causes Bloating?
There are many causes of bloating, such as indigestion, gas, or constipation. Your diet can contribute to bloating, too, if you eat salty foods or those that you're intolerant to.
Here’s a quick overview of the common causes of bloating:
Constipation is considered as having two or fewer bowel movements a week, along with stool that is not only hard to pass, but also looks like rocks or pebbles. When this happens, your stool can cause your stomach and small intestines to fill with gas and lead to bloating.
Also known as dyspepsia, indigestion is pain or discomfort in the stomach that occurs as a result of eating or drinking too much. It can also be caused by some medications, or stomach infections.
The most common cause of bloating, gas is an uncomfortable feeling resulting from a buildup of excessive flatulence. It can also cause pain, nausea, or the urge to poop. Gas is usually due to certain types of food or ingesting too much air when you eat or drink, but it can also be due to stomach infection, indigestion, constipation, and more complex illnesses like Crohn's disease.
Changes in hormone levels can cause bloating, which is why women may feel bloated before their periods or during pregnancy.
Stomach infections caused by Escherichia coli or Helicobacter pylori, and some viruses, can cause bloating, along with gas, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and stomach pain.
Some health issues can cause bloating as side symptoms, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), a type of gut sensitivity that affects 24 percent of women, and gastroparesis, which alters the way your stomach empties. Gastroparesis can be a symptom of other diseases, such as diabetes and hypothyroidism.
Bloating can be caused by endometriosis and other gynecological issues, though it may be confused for pelvic cramps.
Getting enough fiber in your diet can help reduce bloating, as it promotes gut health and can prevent constipation that leads to bloated bellies.
When Should You See a Doctor About Bloating?
Bloating is usually harmless, but if your symptoms change abruptly, you should seek the advice of a doctor. While common, bloating can also be a sign of more serious health conditions, such as cancer, celiac disease, kidney failure or pancreatic insufficiency, or a perforation of the GI tract.
If your bloating is accompanied by any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately:
- Intense stomach pain
- Blood in your stools
- Vomiting for over 24 hours
- A psychical injury (e.g. from an accident)
- Swelling and hardness in the abdominal area
- Abrupt weight loss
How Can You Treat Bloating?
Making lifestyle changes such as exercising regularly and taking your time to eat can work wonders for preventing and reducing bloating.
Here are some other ways to treat bloating:
Change Your Diet
Something as simple as making a few changes to your diet can help reduce bloating, if you eliminate foods like onions, garlic, beans, milk, yogurt, plums, cauliflowers, candies, ice cream, and chewing gum. Cutting back on sugary drinks helps, too, while drinking more water and eating smaller portions can prevent constipation and indigestion, respectively.
Take a Fiber Supplement
Getting enough fiber in your diet can help reduce bloating, as it promotes gut health and can prevent constipation that leads to bloated bellies. This is especially true of soluble fiber like psyllium husk, which is the main ingredient in Bellway’s all-natural fiber supplements. Like with all supplements, confirm with a doctor that Bellway right for you before beginning a fiber supplement regimen.
Bloating can be easily fixed at home, in the following ways:
- OTC medications (e.g. Pepto-Bismol)
- Massaging or putting a heating pad on your stomach
- Drinking peppermint tea or carbonated water
- Taking laxatives or probiotics like Greek yogurt
In addition, keeping a food diary and noting what you eat before you feel bloated may also help you to identify possible food intolerances.