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It’s uncomfortable and can even be a little embarrassing. But everyone has experienced it at some time or another.
This swollen, heavy feeling in your abdomen can sometimes make your pants feel too tight. It can be caused by a wide range of conditions.
And while it’s an occasional problem for many of us, one study found nearly 1 in 7 Americans experience it on a weekly basis… and we’re embarrassed to talk about it — even with our doctors.
If you feel that way, you don’t have to suffer in silence…
Most people don’t tell their doctors
Bloating can make your stomach feel tight, full and distended. It often happens when a person’s gastrointestinal tract fills with air or gas as a result of diet or an underlying condition like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or chronic constipation. An inability to process carbohydrates can also contribute to bloating, as can hormonal or stress-related issues.
The pain bloating causes can range from mildly uncomfortable to excruciating. Despite this discomfort, Cedars-Sinai investigators found most people who experience chronic bloating aren’t seeking medical care for it.
“Although bloating is a common symptom, some patients may not bring it up with their doctors,” says Dr. Janice Oh, a resident physician at Cedars-Sinai and first author of the study. “It’s important that people feel comfortable discussing bloating because it could be a symptom of a serious condition and there are treatments available.”
According to the study results, women were more than twice as likely as men to report feeling bloated. Researchers have various theories as to why this may be occurring, including hormonal, metabolic, psychosocial, lifestyle and dietary differences between men and women.
Also more likely to report bloating within the past seven days were Latinos and people under the age of 60. So were people with medical conditions like IBS, chronic constipation and ulcerative colitis, and people with related gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain and excess gas.
Of the people who reported experiencing bloating, about 59 percent told investigators they have never sought care for their symptoms. As for reasons, more than 80 percent reported the bloating resolved on its own (33 percent), it didn’t bother them (30 percent), or they were able to manage it with over-the-counter medications or lifestyle changes (21 percent). And 8.5 percent of the respondents said they weren’t comfortable discussing their bloating with a healthcare provider.
Banishing the bloat
Oh says bloating can usually be managed effectively with certain medications, such as gut-directed antibiotics or treatments that affect gut serotonin levels.
“There is also evidence that lifestyle changes can help, including exercise, such as core strengthening, as well as dietary changes, but it requires discussion with a healthcare provider about what might be causing the bloating,” she adds.
For now, however, there are a number of steps you can take to manage chronic bloating. The first is to check your diet, especially if you experience bloating weekly (or more often).
Several naturally-occurring ingredients, including gluten, can lead to bloat and more severe symptoms for those with celiac disease. Gluten is found in wheat and many processed foods, so it is hard to avoid.
Other food ingredients that can cause bloat are FODMAPs:
- Oligosaccharides (found in wheat, onions, garlic, beans and legumes)
- Disaccharides (like the lactose in milk, yogurt and ice cream)
- Monosaccharides (like fructose, a type of sugar found in fruit and honey)
- Polyols (sugar alcohols found in foods like apricots, nectarines, plums and cauliflower, as well as many chewing gums and candies)
If you’re sensitive to FODMAP foods, your small intestine doesn’t always fully absorb these carbohydrates. Instead, it passes them directly to the colon, where they’re fermented by bacteria and produce the gas that causes bloating.
Adopting a low FODMAP diet could help manage bloating. It can also help resolve IBS symptoms and rebalance the gut microbiome of people with IBS.
Eliminating all these FODMAP or gluten foods may seem overwhelming, and even if you try hard, you may slip up. That’s where supplementing digestive enzymes, like amylase, protease and lipase may help.
Also, keep an eye on how much fiber you consume. While fiber has many benefits, including increasing regularity, which can decrease bloating, adding too much too fast can actually cause bloating.
And even though antibiotics may help bloat in some cases, the fact is antibiotics disrupt the gut microbiome and have been found to contribute to inflammatory bowel disease — a condition on the rise for those over age 60.
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Bloating Common Issue Among Americans, Study Reports — Cedars-Sinai
Abdominal Bloating in the United States: Results of a Survey of 88,795 Americans Examining Prevalence and Healthcare Seeking — Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Bloating: Causes and Prevention Tips — Johns Hopkins Medicine