What causes bloating & how to beat it
Bloating is something we all experience from time to time, and it’s almost never a cause for concern. However, if you’re experiencing this symptom regularly, it’s worth speaking to a doctor.
Bloating – what is it?
We use the word “bloating” to describe an uncomfortably full, hard and swollen feeling in the belly. Sometimes it’s accompanied by other symptoms, like cramping pains and flatulence.
Bloating is often felt after social occasions that involve lots of eating, drinking and talking, and it’s something that usually passes quickly. However, some people might have bloating regularly because of their diet, a food intolerance, or a chronic condition that hasn’t yet been diagnosed.
What causes bloating?
Bloating is caused by a build-up of gas in the gut, which can be caused by several different things.
It may seem odd, but you can end up swallowing too much air and getting bloated if you talk while you eat, chew gum, or chew with your mouth open.
Excess gas in the gut can be created by bacteria acting on certain foods that you’ve eaten. The worst offenders for this are beans, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower.
You might also be more prone to bloating if you drink a lot of fizzy drinks or if your diet lacks fibre, as this can lead to constipation.
If you’re often constipated, it’s likely you experience regular bloating too. Constipation doesn’t always have an obvious cause, but it’s associated with not eating enough fibre, not drinking enough fluids and not being active.
It can also be caused by certain medicines, and might be a side effect of stress, anxiety or depression.
Certain types of prescription medication can cause bloating. If in doubt, check the Patient Information Leaflet for your medicine to see if bloating is listed as a side effect.
If you have a food intolerance, your gut might be producing more gas than usual.
It’s fairly common to have an intolerance to gluten and/or lactose, so if you think any of these might be the culprit you can try cutting out bread, pasta and/or dairy products for a few weeks - it can help to keep a food diary while you do this.
A food intolerance will usually cause other symptoms as well, including abdominal pain, diarrhoea and skin rashes.
If you have Coeliac disease, your body has a problem with gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. When you eat gluten, your immune system attacks the gut and causes symptoms like diarrhoea, abdominal pain and bloating.
Irritable bowel syndrome
Bloating is one of the common symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which is a condition affecting the gut. In addition, you’ll probably experience cramps, diarrhoea and constipation, often in response to having alcohol, caffeine or spicy foods, or experiencing a high level of stress.
Other diseases that can cause bloating
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- Short bowel syndrome
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
In rare cases, constant bloating can be a symptom of ovarian cancer, along with discomfort in the pelvic area, feeling full after eating, and needing to urinate more often.
How to prevent bloating
- Avoid talking while eating and chew with your mouth shut
- Cut back on beans, onions, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower but make sure you still get plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet
- Drink fewer fizzy drinks
- Avoid chewing gum
- Try exercising more
As we’ve discussed already, if you think you might have a food intolerance, you can try cutting out relevant foods e.g. milk and cheese for lactose intolerance, or bread and pasta for gluten intolerance. If your symptoms improve, this is a good sign that a food intolerance is responsible.
Concerned about continuous bloating?
It’s a good idea to speak to a doctor if you’re finding that bloating is an ongoing problem. You can make an appointment with your GP or use Online Doctor’s easy VideoGP service, which allows you to speak to a doctor using an app on your smartphone.