What Is Bloating?

Distention of the Stomach Caused by Overeating or Gas

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Bloating is distention, or expanding, of the stomach. This uncomfortable feeling of fullness or tightness can make your stomach appear larger.

Bloating may be caused by certain foods or eating habits, but is also a common period symptom. There are various ways to relieve bloating depending on its specific cause.

This article discusses the causes and symptoms of bloating. It also explains how to prevent and reduce bloating, as well as when it's best to see your doctor.

Bloating Symptoms

Symptoms of bloating include:

  • Your stomach may stick out
  • Feeling full and/or uncomfortable
  • The skin around your stomach may feel stretched and tight

Depending on the cause, bloating may be accompanied by other symptoms like cramping as well.

What Causes Bloating?

Bloating tends to be linked to certain foods and beverages, as well as eating habits that cause the build-up of gasses in the digestive system. But there are other potential causes as well.

How You Eat

Eating too much: Stomach tissue is stretchy. But if you put more into your stomach than it can easily handle at one time, it may bloat.

Eating too fast: Eating food quickly can cause you to swallow a lot of air, which can lead to bloating.

Abdominal bloating will continue until the food in an overfull stomach is digested or accumulated gas is released. This can take hours or days.

What You Consume

Chewing gum and drinking carbonated beverages: These can have the same effect as eating too quickly.

High-fiber foods: Foods that are rich in fiber can cause bloating, especially if you aren't used to eating them.

Alcohol: Wine, beer, and spirits may cause temporary bloating by irritating the lining of the stomach.

Conditions

Constipation: Stool backed up in the bowels can cause gas and distention of the lower stomach.

Food sensitivities and intolerances: Food sensitives occur when a person eats something that triggers an immune reaction that produces symptoms, but is not life-threatening. If you have a food intolerance, your body is not able to process certain products. For example:

  • Some people who are sensitive or intolerant to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, may experience gas and bloating after eating foods that contain it.
  • People who are lactose intolerant do not have lactase, the enzyme needed to digest the sugar in dairy products. As a result, they may experience stomach aches and bloating after consuming foods such as milk or cheese.

Food allergies: These occur when someone experiences an allergic reaction to a certain food. The most common culprits are eggs, milk, dairy, peanuts, and tree nuts. Bloating can occur, as well as other symptoms that can range from mild to life-threatening.

Celiac disease: This autoimmune disorder is triggered by the protein gluten. After eating foods with gluten, the immune system attacks the small intestine. This can lead to diarrhea, bloating, stomach pain, headaches, and fatigue.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS): This gastrointestinal disorder can lead to bloating, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms tend to occur after an individual consumes a triggering food or beverage.

Bloating may be caused by the hormonal fluctuations that occur during menstruation.

Recap

Bloating may be caused by food allergies, sensitivities, and intolerances, as well as hormone fluctuations and gastrointestinal conditions. What and how you eat also factors in.

Bloating Treatment

Movement and massage, like a walk around the block or an abdominal self massage, can help get gasses in the digestive system moving and relieve bloating.

There are also over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements that can help prevent bloating or ease discomfort if it occurs.

  • Antacids contain simethicone, which adheres to bubbles in the stomach so that gas is more easily released.
  • Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate) may help reduce bloating caused by an upset stomach.
  • Beano contains alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates into more digestible sugars. This helps prevent gas.
  • Lactaid contains lactase, which can help prevent gas for people with lactose intolerance.
  • Probiotics are "good" bacteria that help maintain the health of the digestive system. Aside from OTC supplements, you can also get probiotics from foods like yogurt and kefir.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Bloating is rarely a sign of a serious medical problem.

If you notice that you become bloated after eating certain foods, bring it up to your doctor; you may have a food sensitivity or intolerance.

It helps to keep and bring in a food journal in which you note what you eat and when bloating occurs, so patterns can be detected. Be sure to note any other symptoms as well.

Bloating that is long-term and doesn't respond to changes in eating habits or OTC treatments can sometimes be associated with certain diseases and conditions that warrant a formal diagnosis and treatment plan.

Besides those already mentioned, like IBS and celiac disease, this includes kidney or heart failure—both of which can cause fluid to accumulate in the abdomen.

Though you may be able to ignore or learn to live with chronic bloating, it's still worth bringing it up to your healthcare provider.

Recap

Talk to your doctor if you have bloating that sticks around even after you've changed your eating habits. You may have a condition that requires formal treatment.

How to Prevent Bloating

Verywell / Lara Antal

In addition to making the obvious changes to address common causes of bloating—eating more slowly and skipping carbonated beverages, for example—consider discussing your diet and eating habits with your doctor or a registered dietitian.

If you can identify the food or eating behavior that may be causing your belly bloat, you'll better understand what specific steps will help prevent future bloating. Some may already be obvious to you, but there could be factors at play that you're not already considering.

Summary

Bloating—when your abdomen sticks out more than usual—is usually accompanied by a feeling of fullness and discomfort. However, it is rarely something to worry about.

It can be caused by eating habits like eating too quickly or too much. Certain foods and beverages, such as alcohol and high-fiber picks, can also be culprits. Bloating could also be simply due to constipation or period-related hormonal changes.

But bloating can also have a medical cause that requires diagnosis and treatment, including IBS, food sensitivities, food intolerances, food allergies, and even heart or liver failure.

There are many OTC medications that may help relieve bloating. However, if you continue to experience frequent bloating, it's best to reach out to your doctor.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does bloating last after a meal?

    Bloating usually lasts until the stomach is emptied. This process depends on several factors and can take around two hours (sometimes more).

  • How can I avoid bloating?

    To prevent bloating, try to avoid foods that make you gassy, as well as bubbly drinks. Eating slowly may also help.

  • How long should I take to eat?

    Food stays in your stomach anywhere from 40 to 120 minutes, depending on what you ate, as well as other factors. Eating slowly and listening to your body's hunger cues can help reduce the chance of bloating.

  • Why should I avoid drinking with a straw?

    Drinking with a straw increases the likelihood of swallowing air, which can lead to gas and bloating. The same goes for fizzy drinks, like soda, which contain lots of bubbles.

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14 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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