A buildup of gas in your intestines can overinflate your stomach. Causing a full and tight feeling, recurrent bloating can make your abdominal area appear swollen. This annoying and sometimes disabling condition can create severe discomfort, often with cramps, belching, lower back pain, shortness of breath, and diarrhea. You may feel as if you need to unzip your skin, not just your pants.
All of these distressing and inconvenient symptoms can hinder your desire to eat and ability to enjoy life. Experts including registered dietitians Kate Scarlata and Laura Cipullo explain common abdominal bloating causes and how to handle them.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowths (SIBOs): Conditions that alter your small intestine’s cleansing waves can cause SIBOs. They include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), diverticulitis, motility disorders, uncontrolled celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, and food poisoning. Bacteria move from your large to small intestine where they don’t belong. Feeding on undigested foods produces gas and bloating. A blood test or X-ray can check for SIBOs.
IBS medications include tricyclic antidepressants including Nortriptyline, generic Aventyl. It reduces bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, urgency, nausea, and other discomforts. Treating acid reflux with a dual medication likeZegerid is also important. Its omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor, decreases your stomach’s acid production. Sodium bicarbonate, an antacid, increases your stomach’s pH so acid won’t break down the omeprazole. Other SIBO treatments include antibiotics and drugs that increase intestinal movement.
Erratic abdominal muscle reflexes: When your abdominal walls’ muscles, especially your internal obliques, are weak and relax rather than contract repeatedly, your intestines retain more gas. Scarlata advises working on your core strength with a trainer or physical therapist if this problem is intensifying abdominal swelling.
Constipation: Inadequate hydration can cause constipation and bloating. Registered dietitian Keri Gans’ recommends sipping water to soften your stool, so it will pass more easily. Water also helps flush out excess sodium that incites bloating.
Intestinal malabsorption of fructose: If your small intestine is unable to absorb fructose properly, you’ll probably experience gas, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. A breath hydrogen test can determine if fructose malabsorption is causing your bloating. Cipullo suggests restricting high-fructose foods including apples, mangos, pears, honey, and anything that contains high-fructose corn syrup.
Other conditions: Anxiety, peptic ulcers, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), menopause, anorexia, and ovarian cancer also can cause bloating.
Small-chain carbohydrates: FODMAPs in wheat, pears, apples, onions, and garlic make you feel as if a water balloon is inside your belly. When you’re sensitive to these small-chain carbohydrates, they pull water into your intestines and ferment rapidly, which guarantees bloating. Scarlata recommends working with a registered dietitian to eliminate these foods for a couple of weeks. Then re-introduction each one methodically to discover your unique triggers.
Surplus fiber: Despite the benefits of dietary fiber, some belly bloating results from soluble fiber. Oatmeal and beans, for example, swell and draw in water. Your body doesn’t break down this fiber type until it enters your large intestine. Then, digestion creates gas. But you don’t digest insoluble fiber from bran, whole grains, many fruits and vegetables, seeds, and nuts, which speed up your gastrointestinal transit phase.
Artificial sweeteners: Diet drinks can compromise your sense of taste, which may cause weight gain instead of loss. Your intestinal bacteria can’t break down sugar substitutes, so gas results. Cipullo warns that the chemicals in artificial sweeteners your body can’t absorb may increase your cravings and aggravate IBS.
Excess alcohol: Besides boosting belly fat, drinking over three alcoholic beverages per day can cause bloating. It also may increase your hunger and lead to poor dietary choices. Karen Ansel, M.S., advocates wine over beer and liquor because studies indicate that it’s less likely to trigger bloating.
Other dietary reasons: Overeating, acidic foods and beverages, and consuming foods that don’t agree with you can lead to bloating.
Airline flights: Inactivity while sitting on long flights increases gas volume, and air pressure changes make gas expand. Before flights, consume only low-fermentable foods and noncarbonated drinks. Rice crackers with one cheese stick and one banana with peanut butter are good options. Skip bloat-inducing favorites like chili and beer.
Additional triggers: Smoking, trapped air from drinking through straws, chewing gum, and water retention also may contribute to bloating.
General Relief Tips
Passing gas and having a bowel movement can encourage relief. If your symptoms don’t subside, basic lifestyle changes can remedy belly bloat and similar digestive concerns (see video below). Instead of overeating at one meal, consume less at more frequent intervals. Always eat slowly and chew your food well before swallowing to encourage proper digestion. Restrict soft drinks.
Sip chamomile tea slowly two or three times per day between meals. Its herbal anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties can reduce bloating while soothing your stomach and heartburn. Add a cup of steamed, baked, or broiled pumpkin pulp to meals, or use it as a recipe ingredient to encourage smooth digestive flow. This squash’s fiber, vitamin A, and potassium reduce excess gas, bloating, and indigestion.