Belly bloat causes a visibly distended abdomen that may feel uncomfortably full or gaseous. The issues and conditions that cause bloating range from minor to significant, and a person who experiences recurring or constant bloating should speak to a doctor about treatment.
Many women experience bloating during ovulation and the pre-menstrual period. At both these stages of the menstrual cycle, hormones such as estrogen and progesterone fluctuate, causing fluid retention that leads to belly and lower abdomen bloating. As long as the symptom can be linked to a cause like menstruation, doctors generally recommend dietary and lifestyle changes to reduce bloating, rather than medications. Some people also find relief with herbal remedies such as raspberry leaf tea.
Numerous gastric and digestive conditions can cause a belly bloat. People with sensitive stomachs who experience recurring indigestion may also notice chronic bloating. Individuals prone to acid reflux (GERD), constipation, or flatulence are also likely to see this symptom. Excessive swallowing of air due to chewing gum, drinking with a straw, eating too fast, and smoking can also make the stomach become bloated. As with menstruation issues, gastric distress and the accompanying bloating often resolve when people make a healthy lifestyle or dietary changes.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome can cause diarrhea or constipation, or a combination of both. The issues this condition causes in the digestive system can also lead to bloating, often accompanied by the painful and gaseous sensations that can interrupt sleep following large meals. In many instances, bowel movements relieve these symptoms temporarily. Anyone who thinks they may have an IBS-related condition should speak to a doctor, however, as symptoms are likely to return without lifestyle changes and, possibly, medication.
Food Allergies and Intolerance
Conditions such as celiac disease and lactose intolerance may cause a belly bloat. In the bodies of people with celiac disease, the immune system perceives gluten as an allergen and damages the lining of the small intestine while trying to eradicate the problematic substance. As such, people with this condition must avoid gluten. Consumption of wheat and other gluten-containing foods causes indigestion, bloating, other uncomfortable or painful gastrointestinal disturbances, and seemingly unrelated symptoms such as headaches, anemia, and loss of bone density. Similar issues arise in people with lactose allergies and intolerances to other foods.
Consuming excessive sodium is a common cause of bloating in the stomach. Highly processed foods contain large quantities of sodium and are low in fiber, both of which can cause this effect. If this seems the most likely cause of one’s stomach distress, making dietary changes should alleviate the issue. Individuals can take care to buy foods low in sodium and primarily consume foods made from scratch, which do not require salt as a preservative. They can also explore other flavoring options such as spices. The average adult requires about 2000 calories per day, and their sodium intake should be limited to 2,300 mg. A doctor may recommend a person experiencing acute symptoms further reduce their consumption.
Eating Too Fast
Chewing with your mouth open can mean you are swallowing a lot of excess air in addition to your meal. This can lead to belly bloat. Chewing mindfully and completely and eating slowly can reduce these issues; digestion begins when the saliva in the mouth starts to break down foods, and this reduces the amount of work the stomach and intestines have to do.
Sudden Fiber Increase
Dietary fiber is critical to overall health, as it decreases appetite and encourages digestion. However, consuming too much fiber too soon can result in a bloated stomach. While it is important to eat fiber-rich foods every day, making an immediate switch after a period of low fiber intake — whether due to poor eating habits or for a medical reason — requires gradual increases over a few days or weeks. Any sudden increases are likely to result in digestive and bowel changes, which can include bloating.
Many cases of a bloated belly are caused by slow-digesting carbohydrates, specifically complex ones that cause gas. An increase in intestinal gas from foods like nuts and legumes can cause bloating within just a few hours. Anyone who notices a sudden increase in bloating frequency should consider recent changes to their diet. If the individual has increased beans in an effort to reduce animal proteins, for example, this is a likely cause of bloating and excess gas. If the consumption is healthy, give the body a few days to adjust to these different nutrients. Otherwise, discuss the situation with a doctor.
Infections can cause a wide range of symptoms that vary depending on what organs are affected and whether the culprit is bacterial, viral, or fungal. Giardiasis is one infection that can lead to bloating, in addition to other signs. This small intestine infection is caused by a microscopic parasite and is spread through contaminated food and water, as well as pets. In addition to bloating, this infection can cause diarrhea, nausea, fatigue, and headaches. Most cases of giardiasis clear up on their own, but some may require antibiotics.
Certain Forms of Cancer
Several types of cancers can cause bloating, including ovarian and pancreatic, though bloat is unlikely to be the symptom that leads to a diagnosis. Uterine and colon cancer are also associated with bloating of the belly, as is cancer of the stomach. Experiencing persistent bloating in combination with any other worrying symptoms should prompt an individual to speak to a doctor, who will take a detailed medical history and order tests to rule out serious causes like cancer.