Bloating

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 9, 2015
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One in ten Americans regularly suffer from bloating. Bloating can be an unpleasant event that leads to discomfort, a swollen abdomen, and other gastrointestinal issues. There are several different causes for bloating, but fortunately, most of them are easy to treat.

Contents

Definition & Facts

Bloating occurs when a patient faces any sort of abnormal swelling, but the term is most often used to describe bloating in the abdominal area. Bloating can be accompanied by discomfort, a sense of extreme fullness, and strange noises from the stomach.

In rare cases, bloating can be so extreme that it causes difficulty breathing. Occasionally, the general discomfort of bloating can turn into sharp, cramping pains. Most swelling is caused by excess gas, but occasionally, bloating can be caused by excess fluid. Bloating is commonly linked to issues with digestion, eating habits, or unbalanced diets.

Causes

Overall, bloating is usually seen as a sign that the body cannot properly digest foods. Therefore, most of the causes of bloating are related to how a patient digests the foods that they eat. The most common cause of bloating is overeating, eating too fast, or eating certain items that trigger bloating.

Rich and greasy foods can cause bloating, since they are difficult for the stomach to digest. An allergy or an intolerance to a particular food often triggers bloating, and those with a lactose intolerance are particularly prone to bloating. If bloating is due to fluid, instead of air, then it is usually caused by an excess of sodium and a deficiency of water. This can unbalance the body’s natural hydration, causing the body to hold onto too much water.

Though bloating is mostly just due to issues with eating habits, it can be caused by some medical conditions. Celiac disease, irritable bowel syndrome, gastric dumping syndrome, and polycystic ovary syndrome all make an individual more likely to experience bloating. Most abdominal bloating is not life-threatening, but a few rare causes of abdominal bloating can be extremely dangerous. Abdominal bloating can be caused by tumors in the ovaries, stomach, liver, and uterus, or it can occur during a massive parasitic infection of the intestines.

When to see a doctor

Occasional bloating after a big meal that dissipates quickly is a common event that should not worry anyone. However, regular bloating that occurs more than a few times each month can be a signal of very serious conditions. A person should see a doctor if they notice regular occurrences of bloating. It is also important to see a doctor if the bloating lasts more than a few days, because persistent abdominal bloating can be a symptom of problems such as tumors.

In addition to seeing a doctor for persistent or regular bloating, a person should see a doctor if the bloating occurs with certain other symptoms. Bloating that happens along with constipation, diarrhea, or weight loss indicates that something is occurring that is more serious than difficult digestion.

If any signs of blood from the gastrointestinal tract occur, such as extremely dark stools, bloody stool, or vomiting blood, it is necessary to seek immediate medical care. It may be necessary to undergo medical tests, such as an ultrasound, X-ray, or colonoscopy, in order to determine the exact cause of severe bloating.

Treatment & Therapy

Depending on the cause of bloating, there are many different types of treatment. Some are easy and quick, while others may be slightly more involved. One of the fastest ways of calming basic bloating due to eating habits is the drug Simethicone. Simethicone is an anti-foaming agent that helps gas to exit the body quickly.

The sugars and starches in certain vegetables, fruits, dairy products, and grains can commonly cause bloating. Food enzymes can be taken that will help the body to easily digest these foods. In order to reduce the feeling of pressure caused by bloating, one can gently exercise in order to stimulate digestion. Though dietary fiber is generally a good thing, it can cause bloating, since it is indigestible. If a person experiences bloating after consuming a lot of fiber, drinking water can help the body to move fiber through the digestive tract.

Drinking water is also the best way to cure bloating that is caused by dehydration and high levels of sodium. Since most bloating is caused just by issues with eating, changes in diet and eating habit are often necessary. Though there are some quick ways to treat current bloating, if a person regularly bloats due to eating habits, it may be necessary to begin eating smaller portions at a very slow pace.

For conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome that can cause bloating, it is necessary to follow general guidelines to avoid bloating. If abdominal bloating is merely a symptom of a serious condition, such as a tumor, the only way to treat the bloating will be to treat the underlying cause.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

Bloating can often be prevented by avoiding foods that trigger bloating. One of the biggest culprits of bloating is fatty, greasy foods that the gastrointestinal system has trouble dealing with. If a patient who often deals with bloating wishes to eat such foods, it is necessary to eat them in small portions.

Certain items, including beans, apricots, lentils, cabbage, cauliflower, and prunes, can all cause bloating because they are difficult to digest. If a person wishes to eat a food that they know can cause digestive issues, they can take food enzymes beforehand, in order to prevent bloating before it can happen. If a person is allergic or intolerant to a food item, it may be necessary to cut it out of their diet completely.

Bloating caused by air can often be due to intaking too much air while eating or drinking. Avoiding carbonated beverages, bubble gum, and drinking through a straw can all help to cut back on the initial amount of air consumed. Some research also suggests that regular exercise can help to decrease the risk of bloating. By making healthy lifestyle changes, one can often prevent bloating before it becomes an issue.

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