Feeling Bloated? 3 Common Causes
If you’ve ever felt uncomfortably full, you may have experienced bloating. It’s sometimes accompanied by distension, which is a measurable increase in abdominal size.
Bloating can be uncomfortable, but it’s a normal part of digestion. During the digestive process, gas can occur as a byproduct of the breakdown of food in your digestive tract. The connection between intestinal gas and bloating isn’t fully understood.
Learning about the causes of bloat can help you find ways to reduce your symptoms and find relief.
Three Causes of Bloating
There are three causes of gas in the digestive tract.
1. Digestion: In your digestive tract are beneficial bacteria. They break down food. In the large intestine, gas is formed as a byproduct of the fermentation process of carbohydrates, like fiber and sugar.
2. Swallowing Air: During eating and drinking, you swallow air. You can swallow more air if you’re drinking or eating quickly, smoking, or chewing gum. The medical term for swallowing air is “aerophagia.”
3. Medical Conditions: Some medical conditions can cause bloating. These include intestinal diseases, bacterial overgrowth, food intolerance, or constipation.
Foods with carbohydrates can cause gas. Foods with a lot of protein and fat cause less gas.
- Sugars, like lactose and fructose, can cause gas.
- High fiber foods, like beans, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains can cause gas, but fiber is important for a healthy digestive tract.
- Other foods, like carbonated beverages, fiber supplements, and artificial sweeteners can also lead to gas.
Home Remedies for Bloating
Sometimes, bloating is caused by an underlying condition. If that’s your case, then treating that condition may provide relief. Thankfully, bloating is sometimes caused by lifestyle factors that can be treated at home. Gas can usually be treated through lifestyle changes, dietary changes, and over-the-counter medication.
- Keep a Food Diary: People have different reactions to different foods. Keeping a food diary allows you to track what you’re eating and how you feel afterward. You will be able to identify what foods are causing bloating, and you can eliminate these foods.
- Adjust Your Eating Habits: Try eating smaller portions, chewing completely, and slowing down. Even healthy foods can cause gas! Smaller portions may reduce gas. It’s almost as important the speed at which you eat as what you’re eating. Eating too fast can cause gas. Chewing your food completely and putting your fork down after each bite can help you slow down. Also, avoid using straws, chewing gum, or sucking on hard candies.
- Make Sure Dentures are Secure: If you use dentures, make sure that they fit well. Loose dentures can cause you to swallow excess air when eating and drinking.
- Don’t Smoke: Smoking increases the amount of air you swallow. If you’re a smoker, you should consider the risk and try to quit.
Reducing foods that are known to cause bloating may help you feel better. Try reducing or removing these foods from your diet:
- High-fiber Foods: It may be helpful to avoid high-fiber foods for two weeks before gradually reintroducing them to your diet. Your doctor or dietician can help to make sure that you’re still eating a balanced diet.
- Dairy: Some people have a hard time digesting lactose, the sugar in dairy products. Reducing or removing dairy from your diet may help reduce bloating. There are also lactose-free options for some dairy products.
- Artificial Sweeteners: If you’re experiencing bloating after using an artificial sweetener, try a different type.
- Fatty or Fried Foods: Fat in the digestive tract can slow down digestion. This allows food to ferment longer, which produces gas. Reducing the amount of fat in your diet may reduce your symptoms.
- Carbonated Drinks: These increase the amount of gas in your digestive tract, resulting in increased bloating.
- Fiber Supplements: Much like high-fiber foods, supplements can increase gas. Your doctor can give you advice on which supplements to take.
There are a variety of over-the-counter options when it comes to reducing the symptoms of bloat. The kind that’s right for you depends on the cause of your discomfort.
- Alpha-galactosidase Supplements: These aid in the digestion of carbohydrates found in vegetables and beans. These supplements, like Beano or BeanAssist, are taken right before eating.
- Lactase Supplements: This type of supplement aids in the digestion of lactose and helps reduce symptoms in lactose-intolerant people. Lactase supplements are sold under names like Lactaid and Digest Dairy Plus. Breastfeeding or pregnant people should talk to their doctors before using this type of supplement.
- Simethicone Supplements: These break down gas bubbles, making it easier for gas to pass through the digestive tract. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence that these supplements, sold as Gas-X and Mylanta Gas Minis, reduce symptoms.
- Activated Charcoal Supplements: Taking charcoal supplements before and after a meal may reduce symptoms, but that’s unproven by research. Activated charcoal may have some disadvantages: it may interfere with the absorption of medications, and it can stain clothing and the inside of your mouth.
When to See Your Doctor
Bloating often resolves on its own or with simple lifestyle modifications. If bloating is the only symptom you have, it probably isn’t associated with a serious underlying condition. However, you should see your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve or if you experience new or worsening:
- Persistent or severe abdominal pain
- Bloody stools
- Changes in the color or frequency of stools
- Unintended weight loss
- Chest discomfort
- Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly
These symptoms may indicate an underlying condition. Though these symptoms can be embarrassing, don’t let that keep you from seeking help. Schedule an appointment today.