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What causes bloating & how to beat it

Woman with bloated stomach in discomfort on sofa
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What is bloating?

If your tummy feels bigger than usual or uncomfortable after a meal, you may be bloated. Bloating is very common and affects between 10-25% of healthy people on a regular basis. It’s usually linked to digestion and the amount of gas in your gut.

Here we share the most common causes of bloating and what you can do to ease symptoms.

Symptoms of bloating

Bloating occurs in the stomach and usually causes the following symptoms:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Rumbling or growling noises
  • Feeling full or pressure
  • Excessive wind

What causes bloating?

The main cause of bloating is excess gas in the gut - a result of different food and drinks such as fizzy drinks or vegetables, or by swallowing air whilst eating. It typically occurs after eating or at the end of the day. For a lot of people, eating too much in one go can cause them to feel bloated. A stomach is only the size of a fist when empty, and whilst it will increase in size as we eat, it’s easy to strain your stomach by overeating. Bloating is also a common symptom of menstruation or other digestive issues including constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), coeliac disease and a food intolerance.

Coffee and fizzy drinks

Fizzy drinks that contain bubbles of carbon dioxide are a common cause of bloating and gas. This is then made worse by the addition of artificial sweeteners which can also trigger symptoms. The caffeine in coffee and other drinks can also contribute to bloating.

Period bloating

Women are more likely to experience bloating than men. One reason for this is premenstrual syndrome or PMS, a collection of symptoms that occur 1-2 weeks before a woman has her period. Bloating is particularly common during this time, causing the abdomen to feel heavy and swollen.

Bloating and constipation

Constipation often leads to bloating and can be caused by various lifestyle factors such as stress, hormonal changes and a lack of exercise. Various treatments for constipation can help to ease discomfort, as can increasing your fibre and fluids intake.

Bloating and IBS

1 in 5 people experience irritable bowel syndrome during their lifetime. This common condition has many symptoms including cramping, excess gas and bloating. Not all people have the same triggers however fatty, processed meals and alcohol are often causes of discomfort. Find out more about the treatments available for IBS.

Can bloating be a sign of pregnancy?

Your hormones frequently change throughout pregnancy, causing a long list of side effects. One common symptom is bloating.

The hormone progesterone causes muscles to relax. This helps your womb to expand for your growing baby, but also means the muscles in your digestive tract slow down, therefore you’re likely to experience bloating and gas.

If you are wondering about a potential pregnancy, we have a range of pregnancy tests available for purchase online to give you peace of mind.

How to reduce bloating naturally

There are various things you can try at home to reduce bloating:

  • Exercise regularly

    Moving around helps food to move through your body and can reduce other triggers of digestive issues such as stress. Various yoga poses can also help to release wind such as child’s pose and squats.

  • Stay hydrated

    Drink plenty of water to ensure your body has enough fluids.

  • Eat with your mouth closed

    This will stop you from swallowing air and causing excess gas.

  • Eat high fibre foods

    A high fibre diet can significantly improve symptoms including constipation. However, some people find too much fibre can make bloating worse. Slowly increase your fibre intake to see if it helps you.

  • Eat smaller meals, more frequently

    Avoid the feeling of being too full by eating 5-6 smaller meals per day. Try to avoid missing a meal or eating too late before bedtime.

  • Massage your stomach

    Gently massage your lower stomach from right to left and help to release trapped air.

  • Chew your food properly

    Chewing your food before swallowing will help your body to break it down and pass it through your digestive symptom. It also will help you to eat slower and avoid overeating.

  • Cut down on trigger foods and drinks

    Various foods and drinks can increase the likelihood of bloating. Avoid alcohol, caffeine, fizzy drinks and other foods such as beans, greens, garlic, onions and artificial sweeteners that make your symptoms worse .

Medication for bloating

You can ask a pharmacist about medication that may help with bloating. Laxatives and medicines like Buscopan are available over the counter to help treat constipation and ease symptoms.

Probiotics for bloating

Consider taking probiotics to help with bloating. These ‘good’ microorganisms can help to balance your gut bacteria and help you digest fibre and other foods. Some people find that probiotic supplements (found in the form of tablets, drinks or yoghurts) help to relieve constipation and IBS. It’s recommended to complete a trial period of four weeks before deciding if probiotics are right for you.

What is persistent bloating?

Some people experience bloating regularly. However if you feel bloated more than approximately 12 times per month or more than what’s normal for you, you may have persistent bloating.

Persistent bloating is one of four symptoms of ovarian cancer and should be checked out by a GP. It could also be caused by medication you may be taking or a digestive issue such as Crohn’s or colitis. If you are concerned about bloating, keep a diary to track your symptoms and speak to your doctor.

When should I go to the doctor about bloating?

If you feel bloated more than 12 times a month or for 3 weeks or more, you should book an appointment with your GP. They will be able to help assess your symptoms and discuss possible causes. You should also seek medical attention if you have a swelling or lump in your stomach, are sick or have diarrhoea, have blood in your poo or find it difficult to move.

References

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3388350
www.nhs.uk/conditions/bloating
www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/how-eat-avoid-feeling-bloated
www.nhs.uk/start4life/pregnancy/week-by-week/1st-trimester/week-10
www.bda.uk.com/uploads/assets/5daaf2d4-8930-4888-b8d2615520c69cbb/c67ce850-341e-49ed-b09370a58a46ae57/My-tummy-feels-swollen-or-bloated.pdf
www.bda.uk.com/resource/probiotics.html
https://ovarian.org.uk/news-and-blog/blog/im-experiencing-bloating
www.nhs.uk/conditions/pre-menstrual-syndrome