It is normal for sounds to be heard from the abdomen. This is usually due to activity within the digestive tract and it is known as bowel noises. Most of the time we do not hear these sounds or do not pay much attention to it until it is very loud or persists for periods of time. Usually these stomach noises are most noticeable when we are hungry and with consuming certain foods or beverages like fizzy drinks. Sometimes excessive and loud stomach noises can occur with certain bowel diseases.
Type of Stomach Noises
Stomach noises can be described in a number of different ways, like growling, rumbling, roaring or thundering. Sometimes it may more of a “fluid” sound such as gurgling or bubbling. It is difficult to isolate specific conditions based on the type of stomach noise. The reasons for the variation in sounds is that it is due to three factors:
- Gas that is either consumed (in fizzy drinks or with swallowing air) as well as gas produced in the bowels.
- Movement of food through the digestive tract.
- Viscosity of the digested food and digestive juices collectively known as chyme.
For example, a more fluid chyme being forced through the bowels by the contraction of the strong intestinal muscles may make more of a liquid noise. Gas in this fluid chyme may cause it to gurgle or bubble. The medical term for these sounds caused by activity within the gastrointestinal tract is known as borborygmi.
It should not be confused with heart sounds which may sometimes be audible to a person like during palpitations. It also does not refer to sounds that are caused by any non-digestive organ which is normally not heard by a person. Usually it requires the use of a stethoscope to hear these sounds but stomach noises may be heard by the person or even people around them.
Causes of Abnormal Stomach Noises
It is important to note that stomach noises are not abnormal most of the time. However, audible and hyperactive bowel sounds may be a sign of some disease. This simply means that the sounds are loud and excessive. It usually means one of the following – there is excessive gas or fluid within the digestive tract, the bowel motility is either too fast or too slow, or there is some obstruction in the gut. Usually abnormal stomach noises are also accompanied by other symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, flatulence, belching and alterations in bowel habit.
Foods and Beverages
The human digestive tract is unable to digest fiber which can absorb water and provide bulk. It can also be digested by some bacteria that may then produce gas as a byproduct.Spicy foods may irritate the bowel which can then increase bowel motility and contribute to loud bowel sounds. Food that is not properly chewed will also require the digestive tract to become more active than usual.
Fizzy drinks are another major dietary contributor to loud bowel sounds. The gas in these drinks is usually passed out as a belch. However, it may sometimes become trapped in the bowels and gradually move down towards the rectum with food and fluid in the gut. During this transit it may contribute to loud bowel noises.
Diarrhea is a symptom and not a condition but many of the causative conditions are associated with excess gas, fluid and rapid movement of food through the bowels. Causative conditions include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) with diarrhea
- Lactose intolerance and other food intolerances
- Malabsorption syndromes
- Anxiety and psychological stress
- Food allergies
Food moves from the mouth, down the throat, into the esophagus, stomach, bowels (small and large intestines) and eventually stool is passed out of the rectum through the anus. If there is any blockage, the normal movement is impaired.
- Gallstones (very large)
- Foreign bodies
- Strangulated hernia
- Volvulus (twisted bowels)
- Fecal impaction
Excessive Gas and Fluid
Sometimes there is excessive intestinal gas or fluid in the bowels for several reasons. Most intestinal gas is actually air that is swallowed while talking and during eating or drinking. People who tend to breathe through their mouth or eat fast may also swallow more air than usual. However, some gas is also produced internally during the process of chemical digestion as well as by the bacteria that lives in the bowels and consumes nutrients from food. Gas in these cases is produced as a byproduct.
Excessive fluid is not usually due to drinking a lot of liquids although this may plays some part in it. During digestion the bowel secretes fluid from within the body into the digestive tract. This aids with the digestive processes and the fluid is then reabsorbed back into body in the colon leaving behind a soft but solid stool. Any substance that draws fluid into the bowels or diseases that prevent water from being reabsorbed thereby leaving excess fluid in the bowels can therefore contribute to excessive or loud stomach noises.
Toxins and Drugs
Ingested toxins can cause loud stomach noises for various reasons. Firstly these substances irritate the digestive tract and usually the bowel motility speeds up. Therefore diarrhea also occurs. Another reasons is that the toxins may draw out water from the body and into the bowels. Once again this also leads to diarrhea. Alcohol and poisons are some of the toxic substances that can lead to loud bowel noises. The degree of the abnormal sounds is largely dependent on the dose of the toxin.
Some drugs may have a similar effect. It can irritate the digestive tract, speed up bowel movement and draw out liquid into the bowels. While this effect is desired with laxatives and some stool softeners, it may occur as a side effect with other drugs. Sometimes it may be the result of an overdose with certain prescription drugs. Usually the symptoms start up a short while after commencing with the drug or after taking a dose. It may be further complicated when the drug is taken on an empty stomach or mixed with alcohol.