If your tummy seems full or stretched out and you’re rumbling all the time, you’re not alone. Up to 30% of people of all ages experience bloating, with symptoms such as gas, a feeling of fullness, and pressure.
This can be with or without bloating (a visible increase in abdominal circumference).
So what could be behind your swelling?
The role of gases
In fact, swelling is a complex condition that can be caused by various direct and indirect factors. Gas often plays a role.
Gas production in the digestive system is part of the normal digestion process and is released through the mouth (burping) or anus (farting).
On average, our expulsion of gases is around 600 to 700 milliliters per day, which results in around 14 farts per day. That being said, there is no set number for the normal amount of gas or expulsion; every body is different.
Bloating can occur as a result of gas retention, excessive gas production, impaired gas transit (changes in the rate and movement of gas), or intestinal hypersensitivity.
An imbalanced gut microbiome can lead to overproduction of gas.
We have more than 40 trillion microbes living in and on our bodies. They can be helpful or harmful. The balance between these helpful and harmful microbes plays an important role in our immune response, metabolism, and health.
These bacteria need food to survive. Their food comes from the fermentation of carbohydrates as dietary fiber from the plants we eat.
One of the byproducts of this fermentation process is hydrogen gas.
Most of these microbes live in the lower parts of our intestine (colon). The upper parts of the intestine (small intestine) have much fewer microbes.
But if excessive numbers of microbes colonize the small intestine (a condition known as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), more gas is produced in the small intestine.
This can cause bloating, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, and nausea.
Could it be IBS, lactose issues, or FODMAPs?
Some bowel and colon disorders can affect the amount of gas and the severity of bloating symptoms.
For example, in constipation, the movement of stool is reduced, allowing more time for bacteria to ferment the contents of the stool, which increases gas production.
Bloating is also very common in people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Changes in intestinal muscle tone and increased sensitivity to gas contribute to bloating in IBS patients.
Bloating can also occur due to poor digestion and malabsorption of some carbohydrates.
Lactose malabsorption (in people with lactose intolerance) is a common problem.
Symptoms can also occur with other digestion-resistant short-chain carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligo, di, monosaccharides, and polyols).
FODMAPs are found in a wide variety of foods, including certain fruits and vegetables, grains and cereals, nuts, legumes, lentils, and dairy products.
While these are good foods for our gut bacteria, they can increase gas production and trigger bloating symptoms, especially in people with digestive disorders (such as IBS). They can also cause water to enter the intestines, causing bloating. This can contribute to swelling.
Other factors: salt, hormones or swallowing air
Of course, there are other factors that could be behind the swelling.
For example, consuming too much sodium or salt in the diet causes fluid retention, which leads to bloating. But this can also alter the gut microbiome and influence gas production.
For many women, the bloating can be related to the phase of the menstrual cycle. This is most common at the onset of bleeding, when maximum fluid retention occurs, but is also related to underlying hormonal changes.
Swallowing too much air, especially when eating, can also increase the amount of gas entering the GI tract, leading to bloating.
Talking while eating, eating on the run, and carbonated drinks can also increase the amount of air you swallow.
How can I reduce the swelling?
Dietary strategies can be effective ways to control bloating. While the foods that trigger symptoms may be different for each person, you could try:
- eating fewer gas-forming FODMAP foods, such as onions, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, dried beans, and lentils
- eat less foods that contain lactose, such as milk, ice cream and some yogurts (there are lactose-free alternatives for people with intolerance)
- replace carbonated drinks, such as soft drinks, with water and drink less alcohol
- consume more probiotics (such as yogurt or certain fermented foods)
- exercise more, as light physical activity improves intestinal gas removal and may reduce symptoms of bloating
- eat and drink more slowly; taking your time means you can enjoy your food, but it will also help you swallow less air.
Consult a registered practicing dietitian for personalized advice on managing symptoms using dietary strategies.
When to see a GP
Most of the time, the swelling goes away soon enough that it is not a cause for concern. But consider seeing a doctor if:
- your gas is persistent and severe and is affecting your quality of life
- your gas is associated with other symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, unintentional weight loss, or blood in the stool.
Saman Khalesi, National Heart Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow and Senior Lecturer and Discipline Leader in Nutrition, College of Health, Medicine and Applied Sciences, Australian CQ University and Chris Irwin, Senior Lecturer in Nutrition and Dietetics, School of Health Sciences and Social Work, Griffith University
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.
Read also | More than 1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to headphones and loud music: study