Stomach bloating is a familiar complaint. Most people will have experienced the condition at least once in their lifetimes, as it often caused by indulging in foods and drinks that disturb the digestive system. Too much gas filling up the gastrointestinal tract can cause the tummy to expand. While most cases of bloating can be remedied my making simple lifestyle adjustments, some cases may be a sign of underlying health condition, which may require a more intensive treatment regimen.
According to Harvard Health, tummy swelling could signify a number of underlying health conditions. These include:
Irritable bowel syndrome – a condition characterised by a combination of symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, Diarrhoea, or constipation) that last for three or more months.
Inflammatory bowel disease – an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Celiac disease – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.
Constipation – a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation. “If you’re not emptying your gut, there’s no room in your abdomen, and you’ll have excess bloating,” Dr. Staller says.
Gastroparesis – a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
Cancer – Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.
According to Dr Oz, ovarian cancer exhibits few symptoms until it has progressed to an untreatable state but bloating is one of the few recognisable symptoms of the condition. He said: “When ovaries turn cancerous they often swell, causing a swelling in the belly that resembles bloating.
“Hormonal changes that occur during ovarian cancer can also cause bloating. One in 40 times bloating will mean ovarian cancer.”
According to Harvard Health, age can be a telltale sign that the bloating may be serious. “Most people who have bloating start experiencing it at a young age. But if someone is suddenly having bloating in older age, that’s sometimes a red flag that tells me something has changed and needs to be investigated,” says Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
According to Dr Oz, experiencing any of the following signs may also signify it is serious:
- A change in bowel habits
- Weight loss
- Blood in your stool
He recommends consulting your doctor if you experience these symptoms or if the bloating persists for longer than a week.
In most cases, stomach bloating can be fixed by cutting out gassy culprits, said the NHS. The health site recommends cutting out or reducing your intake of the following offenders:
For people suffering from constipation – a common culprit of, a fibre-rich diet, drinking lots of fluids and taking regular exercise can help to relieve symptoms. “Even a 20-30 minute brisk walk four times a week can improve your bowel function,” said the NHS.
It is also worthwhile checking for a food intolerance said the health body. Common signs that the bloating is brought on by a food intolerance include:
- Your bowel doesn’t empty properly
- The food causes gas to be trapped
- Too much gas is produced as a reaction to the food
The main offenders are wheat or gluten and dairy products. The best approach if you have a food intolerance is to eat less of the culprit food or cut it out completely, said the health site.
It also recommends keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks, noting everything that you eat and drink and when bloating troubles you most. But don’t get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP.
In terms of diagnosing the condition, Dr Staller said: “If we suspect bloating is caused by constipation or irritable bowel syndrome, for example, we’ll treat those. If there’s no underlying cause, we’ll look at the diet.
“For sure there are some people whose bloating goes away when you fix the underlying condition or diet. But in many cases, the bloating will remain. That’s when we think of bloating as a sensory issue.”
It often requires a multifaceted approach: ”It’s often a case of using traditional approaches in combination with the newer approach of thinking of bloating as a sensory issue,” explains Dr Staller.