Bloating in the abdomen, or simply feeling bloated, because of ‘too much’ gas in the digestive system is a common complaint.
What is bloating?
The terms ‘bloating’ and ‘bloated’ are often used to describe feelings of being full, distended or tight around the abdomen. They usually refer to the presence of wind, gas or flatulence in the digestive tract.
From the medical viewpoint, bloating is a non-specific symptom and doctors will look beyond the digestive system to eliminate other causes of abdominal swelling. For a summary description of the causes of abdominal distension, follow the link to our page on bloated stomach.
The most common cause for feeling bloated is excessive gas in the digestive system. This page provides an overview on the topic of digestive bloating, and the minor health problems which lead to this symptom.
Follow the links to what causes bloating for a
more detailed description of the causes of digestive bloating; and bloating after eating for more
information on what you can do, if you suffer from the problem.
Common causes of digestive bloating
There are many causes of bloating in the digestive tract. The main ones are:
- Acid reflux
- Intolerance to lactose or other foods
- Dysbacteriosis (imbalance of bacterial types in the gut)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
In general, we feel bloated because of the formation of excessive gas in the stomach. This arises as a result of chemical reactions or the work of gut bacteria in our gut. Over 5 litres of gas is produced each day in the normal gut. When normal digestive function is interrupted or hindered, changes in chemical reactions or the way gut bacteria work, leads to increased amounts of gas being produced.
Indigestion and acid reflux are conditions relating to the upper part of the digestive tract. Bloating arises because food is not broken down properly in the early stages of digestion.
Food intolerances, often related to wheat (gluten) and lactose, make it difficult for the middle of the digestive system to complete the digestion of food. This leads to the production of unwanted gas in the gut and a ‘bloated’ feeling.
Constipation, Irritable Bowel Syndrome and dysbacteriosis (abnormal gut bacteria) are mainly conditions of the lower digestive tract. Many factors play a role in these conditions, but in the main, a key factor is the imbalance of bacterial types in the gut.
For more information, see our page on what causes bloating.
Less common causes of digestive bloating
Less common causes of feeling bloated are listed below. It is clear that the list is incomplete and the problems mentioned are major medical conditions. If you think you have any of these, see your doctor immediately:
- Aerophagia (the nervous habit of swallowing air)
- Coeliac disease
- Pancreatic insufficiency (lack of production of digestive enzymes)
Self-help advice on digestive bloating
How you treat digestive bloating will depend on the cause of the problem. For more information, follow the link to bloating after eating.
In general, you will find the following self-help and lifestyle tips helpful:
- Chew your food well – aim for 30 chews with each mouthful
- Drink plenty of water
- But do not drink too much before or during a meal as this dilutes your digestive enzymes
- Reduce alcohol and cut out smoking
- Avoid stress or learn to cope with it better
- Exercise more
- Avoid fizzy drinks, even fizzy water
- Avoid sugary or ‘diet’ drinks, dark beers or real ales
- Avoid Brussels sprouts, onion, leeks, cabbage, turnips, fatty foods and cream
Treatment of digestive bloating
Many people reading these pages will want to know how complementary therapies, especially herbal remedies, can help treat bloating:
- Bitter herbs have been used for many years as digestive tonics. These herbs may be found contained within ‘digestifs’ – alcoholic drinks consumed after a large dinner to help improve the digestive process
- Herbs such as cynara and dandelion, as found in Digestisan, have been used for centuries in helping improve symptoms of indigestion including bloating
- Prebiotics such as Molkosan Vitality help to ‘feed’ gut bacteria and are increasingly being used before trying probiotics or taken together with these supplements
- Many digestive problems are either related or worsened because of stress in our modern world. If you feel bloated and also stressed, your digestive symptoms may improve if you address stress by using a valerian based preparation such as Stress Relief Daytime.
When to seek further help
Although the most common reasons for feeling bloated relate to minor health problems giving you excessive gas in your gut,occasionally abdominal bloating, swelling or distension points to something more serious. If you are in any doubt, consult your doctor.
You should also see your doctor for further advice if you experience:
- Abdominal (stomach) pain, especially severe pain
- Unexplained diarrhoea or vomiting
- Worsening symptoms
- Excessive heartburn
- Blood in your stools, or dark, tarry stools
- Loss of weight