Bloating is the presence of too much gas in the stomach and may lead to burping, flatulence and pain. It can be caused by dietary factors and eating habits, but it can also be an indication of a serious bowel disease.
- A very common symptom which can occur without an underlying condition
- It’s often caused by eating habits and swallowing too much air
- Can be treated by dietary changes and taking medications to absorb gas
If you are concerned about bloating, you can use our online video consultation service to speak to a clinician. They can advise you on how to manage your bloating from 9.30am to 4.30pm, five days a week.
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What causes bloating?
The experience of being bloated is very common, and in most cases it can be attributed to the natural process of the body breaking down food in the gut. However, consistent bloating can be an indication of a condition which is causing an overproduction of gas.
A common way in which bloating is induced is through swallowing too much air. This often happens to people when they are stressed, and it’s also common in smokers and people who regularly chew gum. When we swallow air it goes straight to the stomach, and can often lead to burping.
There are also several foods that are known to cause an increased production of gas in the gut. They include broccoli, starchy foods and foods which are high in fibre.
Another potential source of bloating is intolerance to certain foods. Fructose intolerance is the most common, and is often found in various dry fruits and honey. Sorbitol is a sugar found in fruits such as apples and peaches that can lead to bloating.
Some medications can cause abdominal bloating. Antibiotics may trigger bloating because of the bacterial imbalance they can create in the gut.
NSAIDs can stop inflammation in the joints, but they can also increase inflammation in the gut, while antacids may increase the amount of carbon dioxide that is produced, resulting in bloating.
Some conditions which can increase the production of gas in the gut and lead to bloating include:
- Coeliac disease: an intolerance to gluten affects the small intestines, and any consumption of products containing barley and rye can lead to bloating
- Inflammatory bowel diseases: ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease cause inflammation in the colon and large intestine. Bloating is a common symptom of these conditions
- Diverticulitis: this is the infection of the diverticula, which are small pouches in the intestinal wall
- Overgrowth of intestinal bacteria: this is a condition which is not well understood, but involves bacteria spreading from the gut to the intestine, and leads to symptoms of diarrhoea, bloating and constipation.
Diagnosing the cause of bloating
In terms of determining the cause of your bloating, a doctor will ask you some questions about your medical history, before potentially conducting a physical examination and carrying out some tests.
When you speak to a doctor about a bloating complaint, they are likely to ask about the duration of the bloating, and how often it is experienced. They may also ask if you have benefited from any dietary changes you have made, or if medication has had a positive or negative effect on the bloating.
They are also likely to ask whether you have had any other symptoms that have accompanied the bloating. Symptoms of particular interest, which may be an indication of a serious condition, include:
For the physical examination, a doctor may look at the stomach to see if it is tender, or if there are any other obvious abnormalities. They could also use a stethoscope to listen to your digestive tract, which can reveal how well it is functioning.
Additional tests may include a full blood count (especially for a possible case of coeliac disease), a stool sample (for signs of infection or if there is blood in it), an endoscopy, and rarely, an X-ray of the gut.
If you feel bloated often, or if it is persisting, you may want to speak to a doctor online. By using our online video consultation service, you can speak to one of our GMC-registered clinicians from 9.30am to 4.30pm, Monday to Friday. They can provide advice, treatment options, prescriptions and referral to specialists for treatment, where suitable.
How is bloating treated?
In most cases, bloating is caused by dietary factors, and can be addressed by making adjustments to your diet. If there is an underlying condition, this will need to be treated.
If you are experiencing bloating and it’s thought to be related to diet, it is important to try and pinpoint what foods are triggering it. You should keep a record of what you are eating and when the bloating occurs. For example, if milk or foods high in fermentable carbohydrates are causing your bloating, you can stop eating them and see whether this makes a difference.
This measure will help to determine if you have an intolerance to lactose, fructose, sorbitol or other foods.
You may find that it helps to eat foods which contain probiotics (‘friendly bacteria’) but their effectiveness is often disputed. It is also thought that exercising can help with bloating, as the upright position allows gas to move around the body, rather than being trapped.
There are many options for different courses of treatment when it comes to conditions related to bloating. Coeliac disease can be resolved by eliminating gluten from your diet. Inflammatory bowel diseases are often incurable, and treatment involves extending the remission period and lessening the severity of the symptoms. Various medications can reduce inflammation in the gut and intestines too.
Bloating can be uncomfortable, particularly if it’s leading to additional symptoms such as belching and flatulence. If you are concerned about persistent bloating and would like to speak to one of our GPhC-registered doctors, our online video consultation service is available from 9.30am to 4.30pm, five days a week.
How long is it normal to be bloated for?
Bloating will usually only last between a few hours and a day if it is due to the digestive system reacting to certain food. It’s common to feel bloated after drinking a lot of fizzy drinks, or after eating a big meal. However, if you have a condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, it can be a constantly recurring symptom.
Is bloating serious?
In most cases, bloating is just an uncomfortable temporary symptom when too much gas is trapped in the gut, but it can also be an indication of a chronic condition. Although conditions such as coeliac disease, Crohn’s disease and diverticulitis are rarely life threatening, it’s important to see a doctor if you frequently experience bloating.
Can I get treatment for bloating?
There is no specific treatment for feeling bloated. In order for it to pass, the underlying cause should be addressed. If it is dietary, you can make the necessary changes to your diet by isolating the food which is causing it. Treatment for long term conditions such as Crohn’s disease is more complex; it involves reducing the remission period by using steroid or immunosuppressant medications.
How can I prevent bloating?
To avoid bloating, you can ensure that you maintain healthy eating habits and avoid potential triggers. Not eating too much at one time, whilst limiting foods which are known to increase gas production, can help.
In the case of certain conditions, it is not always possible to prevent them, and most bowel-related conditions can be acquired at any age.
Can I speak to a doctor about bloating?
If you would like to speak to one of our registered clinicians online, you can use our video consultation service. Our clinicians can issue advice, referrals to specialists and prescriptions where suitable, and are available from 9.30am-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.
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