Bloating Causes and How to Relieve It

Bloating Causes and How to Relieve It

What is bloating?

A bloated stomach usually comes as a sensation of tightness, pressure, or fullness in the abdomen. It may or may not be accompanied by visible swelling of the stomach. The discomfort from bloating can vary from mild to severe pain. Although it often resolves on its own, for some individuals, it can become a persistent issue caused by problems in the digestive system and hormonal changes. It's advised to seek medical attention if your bloating doesn’t go away by itself to identify the underlying cause.

What Causes Bloating?

Hormones: For women, you might have observed that your abdominal bloating doesn't always align with your digestive patterns but rather with your menstrual cycle. If this sounds familiar, you're among many. Up to 75% of women report experiencing abdominal bloating before and during their periods. Bloating is also frequently noted during the hormonal shifts of perimenopause. Female hormones play a significant role in stomach bloating, influencing fluid retention, gas accumulation, digestive irregularities, and sensitivity to these factors.

Oestrogen prompts the retention of water and when levels rise and progesterone levels decrease, you'll experience bloating due to fluid retention. Additionally, the enlarged volume of your uterus just before menstruation can contribute to bloating. Hormones also play a role in influencing your digestive system. Both oestrogen and progesterone can induce intestinal gas by either slowing down or accelerating your digestive movements. Oestrogen receptors in your gastrointestinal tract influence your visceral sensitivity, affecting how bloated you feel.

Gas: Gas is a typical outcome of digestion, however an excess amount of intestinal gas indicates a disruption in your digestive system. Although gas can enter your system by swallowing air or consuming carbonated drinks, it typically exits through belching before reaching the intestines. The gas in your intestines is mainly a result of gut bacteria breaking down carbohydrates through fermentation. Excessive fermentation occurs when too many carbohydrates haven't been adequately absorbed earlier in the digestive process before reaching the gut bacteria. This could be due to various factors, such as consuming too much food too quickly. Other possible causes can include: 

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO): This condition arises when bacteria from the colon migrate into the small intestine, leading to an overgrowth that may disrupt the balance of other bacteria. While some bacteria absorb gases produced by others, an imbalance in their proportions can occur when there is an excess of one type and insufficient amounts of another.
  • Carbohydrate malabsorption: Numerous individuals have problems in digesting specific carbohydrates, namely sugars. Common ones include lactose, fructose, and the carbohydrates found in wheat and beans. Whether you have an intolerance or simply struggle with tougher carbs, seeking assistance from a nutritionist or gastrointestinal (GI) specialist can aid in identifying your dietary sensitivities.
  • Functional digestive disorders: Conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and functional dyspepsia are diagnosed when digestion is impaired for reasons not fully understood. Symptoms often show as gas and bloating following meals. It's important to watch out for warning signs like diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, fever, bleeding, anaemia, and unintended weight loss.

Digestive Contents: This can involve solids, liquids, and gases. Accumulation of digestive materials in the digestive system occurs when there's a blockage or constraint in the tract or when the muscles responsible for moving these materials are compromised. Any accumulation of digestive materials in the digestive tract reduces the space available for the normal passage of gas. Moreover, it reduces space for other abdominal contents like circulatory fluids and fat, resulting in a sensation of tightness. Factors contributing to this build-up can include:

Bowel Obstructions: intestinal blockages can be caused by more than just constipation. For example serious medical conditions such as scar tissue, strictures, stenosis, or hernias can all obstruct both your small and large intestines. Inflammatory conditions can also lead to damage in the small intestines, resulting in narrowed passages for digestion.

Constipation: can arise from occasional dietary or lifestyle choices, or it can become chronic due to an underlying health issue. When your colon holds onto waste, recently consumed food lingers longer in the intestines, causing them to expand to accommodate the increased volume, resulting in bloating.

Weight Gain: typically accumulates around the abdomen initially. If you've added five kilos or more, it likely affects your abdominal capacity, leaving less space for regular digestion. Consequently, even a standard meal might induce abnormal bloating during digestion. Additionally, weight gain can result in water retention, leading to a sensation of bloating caused by fluid accumulation in your stomach.

Intermittent bloating typically stems from digestive issues, hormonal fluctuations, or a combination of both. These factors may also induce feelings of general illness and fatigue. If your symptoms subside over time, they're likely not severe. However, if your bloating persists or intensifies, or if accompanied by other concerning symptoms like fever or vomiting, it's advisable to seek a medical evaluation to rule out underlying medical conditions.

Foods Commonly Linked to Bloating: 

  • Asparagus, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage
  • Fructose
  • Beans and lentils
  • Fruits, oat bran, peas, and other foods high in soluble fibre
  • Lactose
  • Sorbitol
  • Corn, pasta, potatoes, and other starchy foods
  • Whole grains

Relieving a Bloated Stomach

Some ways to help relieve and prevent bloating can be to increase exercise and physical activity, particularly some yoga poses have been shown to move gas through the body and assist with stomach pain and discomfort. Many people use over the counter medicines such as laxatives to help with bloating, however natural remedies have become widely popular due to them not being habit-forming or causing unpleasant side effects. Some natural remedies that could be beneficial for some individuals are, ingesting peppermint, ginger, chamomile, and turmeric or supplementing with probiotics to increase healthy gut bacteria.

However it is best to consult a professional healthcare practitioner before incorporating any over-the-counter treatments or supplements into your routine.

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