Does a distended tummy pop up throughout your day and cause you discomfort? If so, you’re experiencing bloating.
Bloating is a common symptom experienced by lots of people and defined as being a feeling of increased pressure in the abdomen. It’s often accompanied by abdominal distention which is the visible increase in the size of your tummy.
It’s important to note that there are a wide range of conditions that can cause bloating and that bloating, as a symptom and abdominal distention, as a sign, are perceived differently by different people. For example, one level of bloating may cause distress in one individual yet not bother another one at all and they barely notice it.
If you’re experiencing bloating regularly and it’s causing you distress, it’s a good idea to see your GP to investigate any serious causes such as disease or functional gut disorders. They may then refer you to a dietitian for nutrition advice and/or a gastroenterologist for further investigation.
Here are the main causes of bloating:
You have a tummy bug (gastro)
If you’ve got gastro, also known as acute infection enteritis, you may experience bloating and distention in the early stages of the infection – often just before the onset of diarrhoea. Eek!
Celiac disease and malabsorption conditions
Malabsorption is where a particular macro or micronutrient is not absorbed properly in the intestines. There are a number of causes of malabsorption, one of them being Celiac disease, where the inflammation and damage to the small intestine impairs the absorption of a number of different nutrients.
These conditions often present with bloating and distention as symptoms and may be worth investigating with your GP, especially if you have a family history.
Constipation can be either an acute or chronic condition which is characterised by infrequent bowel motions and hard, difficult to pass stools. If you haven’t been to the toilet in a few days, then you’ve got days’ worth of food starting to fill up your intestines as it’s not being eliminated faster than it’s being eaten.
Constipation can cause pain and bloating in the large intestine as well as pain with passing a bowel movement. Untreated, chronic constipation can eventually result in a bowel obstruction, with bloating as a key symptom.
More serious issues
Bloating can also be a symptom of bowel ischemia (where parts of the gut has died), liver cirrhosis, or other conditions that stop the normal flow of food through the tract.
IBS – Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are those who experience regular bloating (among other symptoms) without a defined disease or condition. They report bloating as their most bothersome symptom.
You ate too much
Healthy individuals get bloated from time to time. This usually happens after they’ve consumed a large, heavy meal and are feeling overfull. It makes sense. If you put a large volume of food into your stomach, it doesn’t just disappear. It has got to go somewhere, and it fills your gastrointestinal tract. As such you feel pressure and have visible distention.
Also remember that it takes 24-48 hours for food to make it all the way through your gut from your mouth to your anus. So not only is the large meal you just ate in your tummy, there is up to 2 days’ worth of food still transiting through the rest of your intestines.
Too many fizzy drinks
Do you drink carbonated drinks regularly? If you aren’t burping out the gas from these drinks, then it can get trapped inside your intestines and build up, resulting in pressure and distention. Try reducing your fizzy drink consumption for 2-3 weeks to see if it makes a difference.
A high intake of fermentable foods
Not to be confused with fermented foods, fermentable foods are foods rich in prebiotics or fibre that feed your gut bacteria. High fibre foods include fruit, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains. All healthy foods.
Your gastrointestinal tract contains billions of bacteria. Many of them very beneficial to your health. These good bacteria feed on the food remnants (fibre) that our body doesn’t absorb. This is called fermentation and the by-product of this is gas building up in your gut. Don’t worry, it’s very good for your gut health.
If you’ve got a healthy diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes and whole grains, then you may be experiencing the normal bloating associated with eating a diet rich in whole foods.
The fermentable foods that we mentioned above also contain a diverse range of carbohydrates collectively known as FODMAPs. Some individuals poorly absorb or digest these carbohydrates and their presence in the large intestine can cause bloating, diarrhoea and a range of other symptoms.
Under the guidance of a qualified dietitian, embarking on a low FODMAP diet has been shown to help individuals suffering from IBS like symptoms.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that bloating is a highly individualised symptom and can have a range of different causes. Never put yourself on an elimination diet or cut our foods without good evidence. Find a qualified health practitioner that you trust, so you can find the true cause of your bloating and get to the bottom of it.
The Healthy Eating Clinic has a team of qualified dietitians that are highly experienced with helping you investigate the possible dietary causes of your bloating, and help you feel great about what you’re eating as well. Book an individual consultation today.
If you’d like to hear more about gut health and other hot topics in nutrition, be sure to subscribe to Kate Freeman’s new podcast, The Daily Dollop. She’s a registered nutritionist and the founder and managing director of The Healthy eating Clinic and hopes to inspire you with sensible, easy to understand nutrition advice in a 15 minute daily podcast!