What is bloating in the stomach?
It’s common to feel like your belly is tight, full, and swollen. When your gut is full of food or stool, it's normal for your belly to stick out a bit more than it did when you first woke up. However, with stomach bloating, there is more at play.
Many people refer to this issue as stomach bloating, but it is also called distended stomach or distended abdomen. People often describe the sensation as similar to a balloon being blown up in your belly. Women often report looking like they're several months pregnant. It might also be accompanied by other unpleasant symptoms, such as belching (burping), flatulence (farting), and abdominal discomfort.
There are multiple causes of stomach bloating, and thankfully, there are plenty of remedies and treatments as well.
Signs and symptoms of a bloated stomach
The main sign of a distended abdomen is a feeling of tightness or fullness in your belly that may or may not be accompanied by visible swelling.
However, other symptoms associated with stomach bloating may include:
Causes of bloating in the stomach
Stomach bloating is not caused by any one condition. Rather, there are numerous reasons you may be experiencing this problem. Some of the most common causes of bloating in the stomach include:
Some of the causes of gas include:
- Swallowing air by drinking through a straw or chewing gum
- Eating too quickly
- Eating more than your body can handle
- Eating fatty foods
- Eating high fiber foods, such beans or vegetables
- Lactose intolerance
- Intestinal disorders, such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), and SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth)
- Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)
- Abdominal adhesions from past surgeries in your abdominal or pelvic area, such as a hysterectomy
Constipation can refer to several different issues:
- The infrequent passage of stool
- Passing hard stools that may resemble rocks or pebbles
- Straining to start or pass stools
- The feeling of incomplete emptying after a bowel movement
Any of these symptoms associated with constipation can lead to abdominal bloating, because the longer your stool waits to be passed, the more time bacteria in your colon has to ferment it. This process leads to gassiness, and in turn, bloating.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of PMS. If you're feeling bloated in the days before your period is supposed to start, PMS is likely the culprit. It's caused by natural changes in female hormones during your cycle. One of these hormones, estrogen, can increase water retention, or the amount of fluid your body holds.
There are four subsets of PMS:
Bloating is a symptom of PMS-Hyperhydration. Additional symptoms associated with this subset include:
Also called dyspepsia, indigestion occurs when your gastrointestinal organs don't function properly. It's a chronic condition, as the symptoms come and go at different rates and with varying intensity.
Aside from abdominal bloating, the main symptoms of indigestion are:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Belching (burping)
- A feeling of fullness after eating only a small amount
Indigestion has numerous causes, ranging from overeating or eating spicy foods to digestive conditions such as peptic ulcers or gallstones.
Diagnosis for bloating in the stomach
When you see a doctor about your stomach bloating, they'll probably first ask you to describe your symptoms. They'll also want to know how often your bloating occurs.
Then, your doctor might give you a physical exam or run tests in order to diagnose the cause of your bloating and rule out any underlying issues or disorders. These tests may include:
Treatments for a bloated stomach
Because so many different issues can cause a bloated stomach, there isn't a universally effective treatment. However, two of the most common treatments include making changes to your diet and taking certain medications.
If you experience bloating often, making changes to what you eat and drink can help lessen your symptoms and prevent future flare-ups. Research shows that a low fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAP) diet is effective in reducing stomach bloating. The FODMAP diet avoids foods that are known to produce gas, such as:
- Dairy products
Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help control your bloating symptoms. Some options include:
Digestive Disorders Resources
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders: "Understanding Bloating and Distension."
Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Bloating: Cause and Prevention Tips."
Mayo Clinic: "Indigestion."
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract."
Rome Foundation: "Bloating and Distension: What's the Difference?"