Stomach Bloating

What is stomach bloating?

Bloating is a form of swelling in the abdominal viscera or internal soft organs of the abdomen. Stomach bloating refers to the abnormal swelling of the stomach that may cause abdominal pain. This pain is sharp and may cause stomach cramping. It can happen anywhere in the abdomen and the location can change rapidly. This region may feel full or distended. This bloating may also be associated with stomach growling - a gurgling noise that occurs due to movements of fluid or gas in the stomach. Stomach bloating rarely causes shortness of breath.

Many of us have experienced stomach bloating. Although it can be a simple illness, for some individuals it may be more than just an inconvenience. Bloating occurs when our stomach has excessive air, or when we suffer from constipation, food intolerance, or irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome is the discomfort associated with the disturbed digestion of ingested foods.

One problem with stomach bloating is that it can be confused with heart pains if it occurs in the upper left abdominal region. To that end, if it occurs in the upper right abdominal region, then your physician may confuse it with gallbladder pain or appendicitis. These are the differential diagnoses of stomach bloating and may lead to extraneous and expensive laboratory examinations.

What causes stomach bloating?

There are many causes of stomach bloating such as diet, lactose intolerance, gastric reflux, constipation, as well as some less common conditions. Most importantly, medical conditions like Crohn's disease and intestinal obstruction may aggravate your stomach bloating. Stomach bloating indicates that there is some undigested or semi-digested food present in the bowel. Reduced intake of water or other fluids also contributes to the amount of stomach bloating experienced. Water aids many bodily functions and helps food to be digested and passed on to the bowel. Alternatively, fatty foods hinder stomach emptying, which can cause bloating. Individuals who consume dairy products, especially those with lactose intolerance, may experience more bloating. Some common causes of stomach bloating include:

  • Overeating
  • Food allergies
  • Abnormal digestion
  • Food intolerances (lactose, fructose)
  • Air swallowing (Aerophagia)
  • Gas producing foods
  • Constipation
  • Bowel parasites
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Partial intestinal obstruction

Additionally, stomach bloating may be associated with conditions such as abdominal tumors, stomach cancer, and abnormally distended organs. Gaseous bloating happens to occur after extensive CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), in which mouth to mouth insufflations are performed. Ultimately, conditions that disturb or hinder the digestion or mechanics of the abdominal viscera can cause stomach bloating.

How to treat stomach bloating

You may have seen many over-the-counter products designed to treat or relieve stomach bloating. Among these products, those containing food enzymes are the most beneficial as they break down the complex sugars present in the grains and dairy products to make them digestible and absorbable. Prophylactically, these products can be taken before the ingestion of foods that cause bloating. Although these products do not interact with the gas present in the viscera, they stimulate the bowel and help to push the content forward, which boosts stomach emptying. An anti-foaming agent called Simethicone is also used to relieve stomach bloating. It decreases the surface tension of gas bubbles and makes larger bubbles by combining the smaller ones. Larger gas bubbles are passed more easily than the smaller ones. This decrease in bowel gas reduces stomach bloating.

Prevention of stomach bloating

Prevention of stomach bloating is more beneficial than treatment. Do not consume foods associated with stomach bloating or those that are difficult to digest. Avoid or reduce the consumption of foods such as onions, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli. Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables so that you intake sufficient calories. To avoid constipation-induced stomach bloating, maintain a fiber rich diet and ingest plenty of fluids. Regular exercise also helps relieve bloating. Avoid swallowing too much air while eating. Sit down when eating and avoid talking. Try not to ingest excessive cold drinks.

Food allergies (e.g. wheat allergy) can also cause stomach bloating. Avoid these foods to prevent the associated bloating.

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