Bloating: Signs and Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

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man with Bloating

 

1Overview

Abdominal pain and gastrointestinal discomfort can interfere with daily activities. A bloated feeling in the abdomen is common, especially after eating a big meal or drinking too much. In these cases, the bloated feeling can disappear on its own, without the need of medicines or over-the-counter relief.

Bloating occurs when the gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is filled with gas or air. Many individuals describe being bloated as feeling full, swollen or tight in the abdominal area.

What is abdominal bloating?

Both bloating and distention cause a degree of discomfort to its sufferers. Bloating is one of the most common GI symptoms, which is a recurrent complaint of patients. It can become a sign of underlying health conditions like functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) or an irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

The abdomen contains many vital organs like the stomach, small intestines, large intestines, the pancreas, and gallbladder. When there is a disease or condition that affects an organ in the abdomen, it may cause inflammation and swelling. As a result, bloating occurs and sometimes, the abdomen may become enlarged and distended.

Many patients may describe the feeling of being bloated as having too much has in the tummy, cumbersome or uncomfortable feeling in the abdomen and a full belly. Bloating can be moderate to severe, depending on the underlying cause.

2Signs and Symptoms

Simply put, Bloating is the feeling of having too much gas in the digestive system. It makes the stomach protrude out, and it can feel uncomfortable. Being bloated is different from gaining actual fats around the abdominal area. Normally, bloating is just temporary, but if it’s accompanied by other symptoms other than feeling full and a protruding stomach, you may need to consult a medical professional.

Warning Signs and Symptoms

If these signs and symptoms accompany the bloating, it might signal an underlying medical condition. Some of these conditions are life-threatening so seek immediate medical attention.

Fever

When bloating is accompanied by a fever, it might signal an acute inflammation or infection. Moreover, if there is an increased number of white blood cells in the blood, infection is suspected.

Seek immediate medical attention since the infection might be in the gastrointestinal tract, pelvis or urinary. An acute infection may cause septic shock, which is potentially fatal.

Severe Abdominal Pain

When the bloated feeling comes abruptly and accompanied by severe abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting, it may be a sign of a bowel obstruction. Obstruction in the abdominal area may be caused by a scar tissue or a tumor pressing on the bowel.

Another possible cause of severe abdominal pain is bowel perforation. This is a fatal condition and needs immediate medical attention. Obstructions are painful and can cause severe inflammation.

Vaginal Bleeding

Feeling bloated and vaginal bleeding may signal another life-threatening condition – ectopic pregnancy. When there is an ectopic pregnancy, it may lead to internal bleeding and eventually, hypovolemic shock.

Blood in the stool

When there is blood in the stool, further evaluation is necessary. Though most cases aren’t serious like hemorrhoids, bleeding should always be checked because it is one of the signs of cancer, particularly colon cancer.

3Causes

Many causes and factors that could lead to abdominal bloating.

Gas and air

When gas and air accumulate around the abdominal area, you might feel bloated. You might also have flatulence.

Digestive Disorders

Many individuals who have gastrointestinal disorders have bloating. These conditions include ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease.

Fluid Retention Or Ascites

When there is fluid retention, especially in the abdominal area (ascites), it may cause severe bloating. Ascites is a common symptom of a liver disease and sometimes, cancer.

Constipation

One of the most common causes of having a bloated stomach is constipation. It causes the stool to remain in the colon, making you feel discomfort and pain. Constipation is caused by the lack of fiber in food, having a sedentary lifestyle and drinking less water.

Dehydration

Being dehydrated as a result of overeating salty foods or drinking alcohol may cause bloating too. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance may cause the body to conserve fluids in an attempt for survival. When the body notices that you do not have enough water, it causes fluid retention. Hence, bloating is a common side effect.

Food Allergies and Sensitivity

Food allergy and sensitivity like lactose intolerance are common causes of bloating.

Infection

You may feel bloated if you have an infection. Any infection in the body causes inflammation and swelling.

Serious Conditions That Cause Bloating

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer may cause the feeling of swelling and bloat in the abdomen, mostly in the lower part. Ovarian cancer is the fifth most common cancer in women, but it causes more deaths than any other reproductive system cancer. Persistent bloating and pelvic pain are the most common symptoms. Hence, if you feel these symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention immediately.

Colon Cancer

Colon cancer may cause bloating, especially if blood is in the stool. It’s the second most common cause of cancer deaths in non-smokers in the United States.

Pancreatic Cancer

One of the deadliest cancers, pancreatic cancer may also manifest bloating as one of its symptoms. Due to the difficulty in diagnosing this disease, it can become fatal. The signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer will manifest if the cancer cells have already spread to nearby organs like the liver.

Stomach Cancer

Just like any other digestive cancers, stomach cancer is usually asymptomatic in the early stages of the diseases. There are vague symptoms like indigestion, bloating and feeling full in the upper abdomen. Often, cancer has already reached its advanced stages before it can be diagnosed.

Liver Disease

When bloating is accompanied by ascites or fluid retention in the abdomen, it is caused by liver disease. An advanced liver disease like cirrhosis may cause ascites, but the liver is also one of the organs where cancer cells metastasize to. For instance, lung cancer will always spread to the liver.

Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is when the fallopian tubes, ovaries, and uterine lining becomes infected, typically by sexually transmitted diseases. Other causes of PIDs are a miscarriage, intrauterine devices, and abortion.

4Treatment

Bloating is treated by lifestyle changes and home remedies.

  • Eat foods rich in potassium. The more salt you consume, the more potassium-rich foods you eat. This will prevent swelling and fluid retention. Foods like citrus foods, melons, bananas, and asparagus are high in potassium.
  • Avoid constipation by drinking adequate water, eat foods high in fiber and exercise regularly.
  • Avoid gas forming foods and carbonated drinks
  • Take over-the-counter medicines like activated charcoal tablets and antacids. Antacids allow gas to be belched away faster and easier.
  • Be physically active
  • Drink peppermint tea. It’s a natural remedy for soothing churning stomachs and easing gas pains.
  • Ginger is good for nausea, indigestion, and stomach flu.
  • Fennel seeds are also ideal for easing bloating. These are useful in relieving digestive problems because of their diuretic, carminative and pain-reducing properties. They relax muscle spasms in the GI tract.
  • Chamomile tea is also an excellent home remedy for bloating. It has anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.
  • Caraway seeds have antispasmodic, antimicrobial and carminative properties. Natural chemicals in these seeds help relax smooth muscle tissues in the stomach and promote expulsion of gas.

5Prevention

Exercise regularly

Get off the couch and move more. Exercise for about 150 hours per week to avoid a sedentary lifestyle. This will help with constipation and feel bloated.

Drink 8 to 10 glasses of water daily

Drinking adequate amounts of water can help reduce bloating, prevent constipation and aid in digestion.

Avoid unhealthy foods

To prevent bloating, ditch junk food, processed food, and fast food. Eat more healthy options like fruits and vegetables.

Don’t eat too fast

Not chewing your food properly can cause air swallowing. This may lead to bloating.

Avoid carbonated drinks

the fizz in sodas and carbonated drinks may cause gas to be trapped in your tummy. Chewing gums are also culprits in bloating and gas pains.

Limit Sodium

Too much salt in the diet may contribute to the bloating feeling. It worsens if you eat foods that are low in fiber.

Reduce the consumption of gas-forming foods

If you always suffer from gas pains and bloating, you may reduce your consumption of gas forming foods like beans, and vegetables from the cruciferous family like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and cauliflower.

Small frequent meals

Eating a large meal may cause bloating and feeling uncomfortably full. Try eating smaller portions frequently to aid in digestion and prevent bloating.

Don’t overdo sugar-free foods

Sugar-free foods contain sugar alcohol in artificially sweetened foods and drinks. This can cause gas pains and bloat.

Watch out for allergies and lactose intolerance

Lactose intolerance and food allergies may cause bloating and gas in the abdomen. You need to seek medical help for a diagnosis before you eliminate certain foods in your diet. If you suspect these conditions, consult with your physician first for diagnostic tests and further evaluation.