Abdominal bloating is a condition in which the abdomen feels uncomfortably full and tight and may be visibly swollen (distended). Bloating is a common complaint, affecting between 10 and 30 percent of adults (Thiwan).
According to Dr. Syed Thiwan of the University of North Carolina, abdominal bloating can interfere with a person’s ability to work and participate in social or recreational activities. When compared with people who do not have abdominal bloating, sufferers use more sick days, visit the doctor more often, and take more medications (Thiwan).
The symptoms of bloating can be vague and difficult to pinpoint, but most people describe an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, tightness, or swelling in the abdomen. This can be accompanied by pain, excessive gas (flatulence), frequent burping or belching, and abdominal rumbling.
The most common causes of abdominal bloating are:
- swallowing air
- irritable bowel syndrome
- intolerance to dairy products
- eating too fast
- weight gain
- overgrowth of bacteria in the small bowel
- giardiasis (intestinal parasites)
- anatomical or structural abnormalities of the gastrointestinal tract
- some medications
- sugar substitutes (fructose and sorbitol)
Abdominal bloating can also be a symptom of several serious conditions, including:
- fluid in the abdominal cavity (ascites) as a result of cancer, liver disease, kidney failure, congestive heart failure, and other disorders
- celiac disease (wheat gluten intolerance)
- ovarian cancer
- pancreatic insufficiency (impaired digestion because the pancreas cannot produce enough digestive enzymes)
In many cases, the symptoms of abdominal bloating can be diminished or even prevented by adopting a few simple lifestyle changes.
- Don’t chew gum. Chewing gum can cause you to swallow extra air, which in turn can lead to bloating.
- Limit your intake of carbonated drinks.
- Avoid “gassy” foods, such vegetables in the cabbage family, dried beans, and lentils.
- Eat slowly.
- Avoid drinking through a straw.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- Use lactose-free dairy products.
Consult your doctor if bloating is accompanied by any of the following:
- abdominal pain
- blood in the stools or dark, tarry looking stools
- worsening heartburn
- unexplained weight loss