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Bloating Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

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Bloating Causes, Prevention, and Treatment

At some point or another, you may have bloating (think: a big meal on Thanksgiving). Bloating can be temporary and infrequent, but for some people, bloating is a daily occurrence. Not only is it uncomfortable (and sometimes downright painful), but bloating can also indicate a more serious, underlying disease or condition.

What is bloating?

Bloating is when your stomach (belly) is full, or distended, and tight. The bloating is usually caused by air or gas and is often accompanied by belching, stomach rumbling, and flatulence. When you’re bloated, you feel uncomfortable and your clothes often feel tight, as well.

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What causes bloating?

Many of the common causes of bloating are usually not serious. These include:

  • Eating too quickly
  • Eating too much at one time
  • Swallowing air (from chewing gum, drinking carbonated drinks, smoking, or eating too fast)
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Eating foods that create gas (e.g., broccoli, cabbage, beans, high-fiber cereals, foods that contain sugar alcohols)
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) or menstruation
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight gain

However, recurring bloating can indicate a more serious condition, such as:

  • Constipation
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Diverticulitis
  • Gastroparesis
  • Acid reflux
  • H. pylori infection (which can cause stomach ulcers)
  • Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI)
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Liver disease
  • Gallstones
  • Food intolerances or allergies
  • Blockage
  • Pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Cancer (stomach, colon, pancreatic, ovarian, uterine)

Does diabetes cause bloating?

Having diabetes does not automatically mean that you will have bloating. However, diabetes that is not well managed can, over time, lead to a condition called gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is caused by nerve damage from high blood sugars, causing the muscles in the digestive tract to slow down or even not work at all. This results in food being digested much more slowly than usual. This, in turn, can affect your blood sugars. Symptoms of gastroparesis include bloating, cramping, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and poor appetite. If you think you might have gastroparesis, talk with your health care provider about your symptoms and treatment options. Gastroparesis can’t be cured, but it can be managed.

When should you get medical help for bloating?

Occasional bouts of bloating are usually no cause for concern. But you should contact your provider if you’re noticing that bloating is occurring more often than usual, if it’s not improving with simple changes (like eating more slowly or stopping gum chewing), or if you’re having other symptoms such as:

  • Persistent or worsening stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Frequent constipation
  • Changes in the color of your stools or the frequency of bowel movements
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss

If you have severe stomach pain, chest pain, or diarrhea, or if you have a fever, feel lightheaded, or are short of breath, you should get immediate medical attention.

Depending on the severity and frequency of your symptoms, your provider will likely do a physical exam and order tests to make a diagnosis and come up with a treatment plan.

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How can you prevent bloating?

Low-FODMAP diet

A first step in “beating the bloat” is to make some changes to your food choices and eating habits. Keeping a record of your food intake can help you identify possible food culprits.

Some people can benefit from what is called a low-FODMAP diet. FODMAP stands for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols (FODMAP). A low-FODMAP diet can reduce gas and bloating by avoiding or limiting:

  • Oligosaccharides: Found in, e.g., wheat, onions, garlic, beans
  • Disaccharides: Found in, e.g., lactose found in milk, yogurt, and other dairy foods
  • Monosaccharides: Found in, e.g., apples, pears, honey
  • Polyols: Found in, e.g., apricots, nectarines, plums, cauliflower, and sugar-free gums and candies

A dietitian can help you with a low-FODMAP diet and then guide you with reintroducing these foods, too.

Additional strategies

Other ways to lessen the chances of bloating include:

  • Limiting or avoiding carbonated drinks, such as diet soda or seltzer water
  • Avoiding chewing gum
  • Eating more slowly — one way to do this is to put your fork or spoon down between bites
  • Eating meals regularly, and try eating smaller meals
  • Gradually increasing your fiber intake
  • Cutting back on sodium if you find that salt and high-sodium foods cause you to retain fluid
  • Increasing your physical activity, which helps move food through your digestive tract and can improve regularity

Also, speak with your provider about possibly trying a probiotic supplement or over-the-counter medicines, such as those that contain simethicone or charcoal. You may find that sipping on certain herbal teas, like ginger, peppermint, fennel, or chamomile helps ease or prevent bloating, especially after eating.

Want to learn more about maintaining gastrointestinal health? Read “What to Eat if You Have Gastroparesis,” “Diabetes and the Microbiome,” and “Can Diabetes Cause Constipation?”

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES

Amy Campbell, MS, RD, LDN, CDCES on social media

A Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator at Good Measures, LLC, where she is a CDE manager for a virtual diabetes program. Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition & Meal Planning, a co-author of 16 Myths of a Diabetic Diet, and has written for  publications including Diabetes Self-Management, Diabetes Spectrum, Clinical Diabetes, the Diabetes Research & Wellness Foundation’s newsletter, DiabeticConnect.com, and CDiabetes.com

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