We all feel some degree of stomach upset every now and then. These symptoms can vary and are usually encompassed under the term ‘indigestion’. One such symptom is stomach bloating. The stomach is located on the left, upper side of the abdomen just under the rib cage. Therefore stomach bloating refers to a sensation felt in the regions of the stomach although some people may refer to the abdomen as a whole as the stomach.
What is stomach bloating?
Stomach bloating is the condition when there is a feeling of fullness of the stomach and discomfort caused by it. Bloating may happen due to various reasons and can be accompanied with visible distension (tightness in the stomach) in some cases. Stomach bloating may cause a lot of uneasiness and when severe, may hamper the normal activities in an individual. It often happens after a meal as that is when the stomach is generally full and the sufferers typically complain of excessive gas. It is also more commonly reported in obese or overweight individuals.
What are the other symptoms?
Stomach bloating is a symptoms and may present on its own or with other symptoms.
- Discomfort, the degree of which may vary depending on the extent of bloating.
- Sensation of fullness after just a few bites of a meal.
- Presence of gas inside the stomach and upper gut.
- Dull to strong abdominal ache, which may ease upon having bowel movements.
- A visible distension of the abdomen.
- Nausea or vomiting
- Excessive belching due to the presence of excess gas within the stomach. Burping and passing gas (flatulence) may provide some relief.
- Heartburn – burning chest pain.
What causes stomach bloating?
The most common cause of stomach bloating is excess gas accumulation in the stomach which is usually related to swallowing of air. Some factors contributing to stomach bloating includes:
- Overeating – it may lead to acute stomach bloating and rarely requires medical attention. Overindulgence is commonly seen with the use of alcohol as a person loses their ability to judge sufficient and excess quantities of food.
- Certain foods like carbonated beverages and vegetables known to increase gas production. Similarly, many people with lactose intolerance cannot process dairy products well and suffer from bloating, stomach upset and indigestion.
- Psychological state – bloating can also be a result of psychological stress and anxiety and is believed to be due to rapid breathing and subsequent air swallowing.
- Eating habits – eating too fast, chewing gum, smoking, and drinking with a straw; all these activities may bring in more air in the stomach and cause it to bloat.
- Stomach emptying – factors affecting bowel movements play an important role in stomach bloating. Slow processing of fatty food by the digestive system may delay the bowel movements and add to the discomfort. A gastrointestinal blockage or infection may also affect the bowel movements inversely and result in stomach bloating.
- Body weight – the tendency of overeating coupled with inadequate body movements to help with food digestion in obese or overweight people may easily lead to stomach bloating and fullness.
- Abdominal pressure – stomach bloating may also be associated with increased pressure on or in the abdomen. This includes pregnancy where the enlarged uterus presses against the stomach or even very tight clothing that presses against the abdomen.
- Medication – some medications or foods might have components like sorbitol and lactulose, which can aggravate stomach bloating.
- Other: Stomach bloating may a non-specific symptom of various medical condition. Some disease conditions like irritable bowel syndrome affect the bowel movements and can also cause symptoms like bloating in addition to abdominal pain and cramping. Stomach bloating coupled with distension is one of the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Inflammation and/or infection of any part of digestive system may also cause bloating. For example, inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), presence of gastric or peptic ulcers, stomach cancer, and infections of stomach or duodenum (gastroenteritis) can present a symptom synonymous to stomach bloating.
Treatment of Stomach Bloating
The choice of treatment for bloating is dependent on the underlying cause. Stomach bloating is usually not a serious condition and often resolves spontaneously within a short period of time. However, when severe the following medication may be used:
- Antacids are commonly used for bloating but is only helpful for conditions like gastritis.
- Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) reduce gastric acid production and may be helpful for conditions like gastritis.
- Prokinetic agents may sometimes be used when stomach emptying needs to be hastened.
- Effervescents increase gas production and aids with belching which may subsequently ease the bloating sensation.
- Anti-foaming agents help to reduce the surface tension of gas and therefore prevents gas build up within the stomach.
The occasional episode of stomach bloating is not a cause for concern. However, repeated bloating should be investigated further as it may be a symptom of an underlying chronic condition. When necessary, diagnostic investigation may be conducted in order to identify the exact cause of symptoms like stomach bloating.
Remedies for Stomach Bloating
Often simple non-medical measures can be effective in easing and preventing stomach bloating. However, this should not detract from the need for medical treatment particularly in chronic cases.
- Eat slowly. Air swallowing is one of the main causes of stomach bloating and often arises with eating too fast. It is important to sit down to a meal and consume it in a calm manner. Talking while eating can also contribute to bloating.
- Avoid carbonated beverages. The gas within these beverages commonly contributes to trapped gas within the stomach especially when consumed while eating food.
- Moderate food intake. Larger meals are more likely to contribute to stomach bloating. It is preferable to consume more smaller meals rather than fewer large meals.
- Mild exercise after meals. Mild physical activity after eating can help with stomach emptying and releasing gas that may have entered the stomach. This should not be strenuous exercise as it can worsen symptoms.
- Avoid problem foods. Apart from the carbonated beverages, certain gassy foods may also contribute to bloating. These foods should be avoided as far as possible.