Abdominal bloating occurs when the gastrointestinal (GI)
tract is filled with air or gas. Most people describe bloating as feeling full,
tight, or swollen in the abdomen. Your abdomen may also be swollen (distended),
hard, and painful. Bloating is often accompanied by:
- excessive gas (flatulence)
- frequent burping or belching
- abdominal rumbling or gurgles
Abdominal bloating can interfere with your ability to work
and participate in social or recreational activities. According to the University of North Carolina,
people who do experience abdominal bloating use more sick days, visit the
doctor more often, and take more medications than other people. Bloating is common
among both adults and children.
Why do you feel bloated?
Gas and air
Gas is the most common cause of bloating, especially after
eating. Gas builds up in the digestive tract when undigested food gets broken
down and when you swallow air. Everyone swallows air when they eat or drink,
but some people can swallow more than others, especially if they are:
- eating or drinking too fast
- chewing gum
- wearing loose dentures
Burping and flatulence are two ways swallowed air leaves the
body. Delayed emptying of the stomach (slow gas transport) in addition to gas accumulation
can also cause bloating and abdominal distension.
Other causes of bloating may be due to medical conditions. These
These conditions cause factors that contribute to gas and
bloating, such as:
- overgrowth or deficiency of bacteria within the
- gas accumulation
- altered gut motility
- impaired gas transit
- abnormal abdominal reflexes
- visceral hypersensitivity (feeling of bloating
in small or even normal body changes)
- food and carbohydrate malabsorption
Abdominal bloating can also be a symptom of several serious
- pathologic fluid accumulation in the abdominal
cavity (ascites) as a
result of cancer (e.g., ovarian cancer),
liver disease, kidney failure, or congestive heart failure
- celiac disease,
or wheat gluten intolerance
insufficiency, which is impaired digestion because the pancreas cannot produce
enough digestive enzymes
- perforation of the GI tract with escape of gas,
normal GI tract bacteria, and other contents into the abdominal cavity
Treatments to prevent or relieve bloating
In many cases, the symptoms of abdominal bloating can be
diminished or even prevented by adopting a few simple lifestyle changes such as
losing weight, if you’re overweight.
To reduce swallowing too much air, you can:
- Avoid chewing 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 and avoid drinking through a straw.
- Use lactose-free dairy products (if you are lactose
may also help with repopulating healthy gut bacteria. Research is mixed on the
effectiveness of probiotics. One review
found that probiotics have a moderate effect, with a 70-percent agreement on
its effect on bloating relief. You can find probiotics in kefir and Greek
Abdominal massages may also help reduce abdominal bloating.
One study looked at
80 people with ascites and assigned them 15-minute abdominal massages twice a
day for three days. The results showed that massages improved depression,
anxiety, well-being, and perceived abdominal bloating symptoms.
Talk to your doctor if lifestyle changes and dietary
interventions don’t relieve abdominal bloating. If your doctor finds a medical
cause for your bloating, they may recommend medical treatments. Treatments may
require antibiotics, antispasmodics, or antidepressants, but it also depends on
Warning signs: When to see a doctor
Consult your doctor if bloating is accompanied by any of the
- severe or prolonged abdominal pain
- blood in the stools, or dark, tarry looking
- high fevers
- worsening heartburn
- unexplained weight loss
Scroll down to learn more about specific causes of abdominal