Louise Chang, MD
Bloating, gassiness, and abdominal discomfort aren’t limited to the
occasional holiday feast. One in 10 Americans say they suffer from bloating
regularly, even when they haven’t eaten a large meal. In some cases, bloating
can become severe enough that it causes distention, or a perceptible swelling
of the abdomen. Bloating and gas are usually tied to what and how you eat, so a
few simple changes may help.
Here are three common causes of bloating, and how you can avoid them.
The second most common cause of temporary bloating is gas in the abdomen.
About half of gas in the digestive system is swallowed air. The rest is
produced by bacteria in the gut that help digest food. If the gastrointestinal
tract does not move it through efficiently, gas builds up in the intestines,
causing bloating and discomfort.
If you frequently experience bloating caused by gas, avoid these habits that
increase how much air you swallow.
Some people swallow more air when they’re nervous. It’s possible that
practicing ways to reduce stress and anxiety, such as breathing exercises or
progressive muscle relaxation, may help reduce excess gas and bloating.
Difficult-to-digest foods can cause gassiness and bloating. These are some
Temporary bloating is common and nothing to worry about. But if you’re
troubled by bloating on a regular basis, talk to your doctor.
Physical obstructions such as scarring of the stomach opening can make it
hard for food to pass through the digestive tract normally. If your doctor
diagnoses a physical obstruction in the stomach or small intestines, surgery
may be required to correct it. Bloating can also be caused by impaired muscle
function in the digestive tract. When muscles that normally move food along
don’t work properly, gas can build up in the small intestines, causing
bloating. In some cases, gas in the intestines may go the wrong way, returning
to the stomach.
Persistent bloating or distention may also signal potentially serious
conditions, such as enlargement of one of the abdominal organs or a malignancy.
If eliminating or reducing consumption of hard-to-digest foods doesn’t solve
your frequent bloating problem, there are over-the-counter medications that
might help. Look for a pill or liquid containing alpha-D-galactosidase, an
enzyme that breaks down indigestible sugars in beans and vegetables. Tablets or
capsules containing simethicone can also help alleviate symptoms of excess
If you’re a smoker, intestinal distress may be one more reason to quit.
Smoking has been linked to bloating, heartburn, and other digestive
Fortunately, bloating is rarely a symptom of serious trouble. For most
people, the most effective prescription for bloating is simple: control portion
sizes, go easy on fats, and eat slowly enough to give your body time to signal
when you’ve had enough. These sensible remedies should keep you from feeling
overstuffed and bloated.
SOURCES:Grabitske, H. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition,
“Gastrointestinal Effects of Low-Digestible Carbohydrates,” 2009; vol 49: pp
327-360.Joanne L. Slavin, PhD, RD, professor of food science and nutrition,
University of Minnesota.American College of Gastroenterology:Belching, Bloating and Flatulence.MedicineNet.com: Intestinal Gas (Belching, Bloating, Flatulence).
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