The most common causes of belly bloating.
Feeling bloated after eating? If you struggle with wind and your clothes feel tight after every single meal, you might be starting to lose hope. Most of us have experienced the uncomfortable feeling of a stretched stomach at some point in our lives. Bloating is usually a signal that your body is struggling with digestion, but it can also be caused by a variety of factors not necessarily related to your diet.
So how can you work out what triggers bloating and learn to tackle it? Consultant gastroenterologist Dr Ayesha Akbar, sheds some light on the most common causes of belly bloating:
Bloating can occur as a result of dehydration. Drinking lots of water can potentially reduce the likelihood of bloating. This is because dehydration and electrolyte imbalances can halt digestion as, when your body attempts to counter-balance the effects of being dehydrated, it holds on to excess water.
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the gut, and includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Main presenting symptoms include diarrhoea, blood in the stool, tummy pains and weight loss.
In addition, IBD can lead to bloating. A major cause of bloating is gas. Gas can become trapped in the bowels to cause bloating, or can be expelled as wind. In addition, IBD sufferers may also experience bloating if they have scar tissue (adhesions) as a result of previous surgery.
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Although the bowels and intestines of someone with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) look normal, unlike IBD where we can see inflammation, this is not to say their digestive system is working normally. Our digestive systems are made up of a complicated system of nerves and IBS is caused by a loss of coordination within this system and the way the bowel works.
Therefore, sufferers of IBS have nothing structurally wrong but something functionally wrong. IBS is characterised by constipation and/ or diarrhoea, bloating and abdominal pain.
Constipation may be the most obvious reason as to why you have a bloated stomach. Constipation can lead to stool remaining in the intestines, therefore giving you a hard-feeling stomach, pain, discomfort and gas. Causes for constipation include:
- Eating too little fibre
- Not drinking enough water
- Lack of physical exercise
- Side effects of medication
- Hormonal changes
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can lead to a bloated stomach, as it makes you prone to constipation and fluid retention. This can occur before, during, or after the menstrual cycle, and for some women not at all.
In the early days of a women’s cycle, oestrogen levels rise while the uterine lining thickens. This can lead to bloating, which can become stronger as ovulation occurs and more fluids and blood build up. Usually, PMS bloating goes away when the excess fluid and blood is shed when the woman has her period.
- Food allergy or intolerance
Food allergies, sensitives or intolerances can lead to bloating. The two most common forms of food that lead to bloating are dairy products and foods containing gluten.
Even people who are not officially diagnosed as being gluten allergic (coeliac disease) can often experience sensitivity to these foods and experience constipation and bloating. Other foods can lead to bloating, for example apples and avocados.
- Lack of sleep
Not getting sleep can affect us in many way. With lack of sleep, our bodies release a stress hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can disturb our digestive system to cause things like bloating and constipation.
- Eating too fast
Eating too fast can lead to bloating. If we eat too quickly, it is possible that we inhale a lot of air. Therefore, we end up with large volumes of gas and sitting in our stomach that can manifest as bloating.
There is much discussion around the link between IBS and stress. The guts are very richly innervated, and stress can lead to a prolonged stimulation of the bowel. Even if not related to IBS, stress can put pressure on your stomach, leading to bloating.