What Is the Definition of Bloating?

Learn the causes of belly bloat to reduce abdominal bloating and discomfort

bloating causes and tips to reduce
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Abdominal bloating is an uncomfortable feeling of fullness, tightness or distention in the belly area. Abdominal bloating usually occurs after eating and is often the result of digestive gasses, including carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane or sulfur.

What is Bloating?

Understanding the definition of abdominal bloating may be helpful if you are trying to reduce the symptoms, but you probably already know if you have it.

It's the feeling of tightness in your waistline that often happens after you eat. You might unbutton your waistband or even put on a looser pair of pants to reduce the discomfort from bloating.

So why does abdominal bloating occur? Many times, the food we eat, the amount of food we eat, what we drink, and the way in which we eat food causes gas to accumulate in the digestive system. For some, even alcohol may cause puffiness and bloating. The result is that familiar belly bulge.

Abdominal bloating continues until you reduce the excess air by internal digestive processes or by expelling the air through the mouth (belching) or the anus (passing gas). 

Common Causes of Abdominal Bloating

Some our our normal day to day activities may cause bloating. According to the National Institutes of Health, common causes of bloating include:

  • Eating too much.  It's easy to overeat if you eat too quickly. Why? Because when you consume food without taking a break, your body (your belly and your brain) don't have time to acknowledge the important signs of fullness that tell you to stop. The result is that 15-20 minutes after your meal, your body feels as if you ate 2-3 meals and your waistlines expands to accommodate it.
  • Eating high fiber foods (especially when your body is not used to them). If you eat a meal full of high-fiber foods like whole grains (bread, oats, whole grains)
  • Consuming air. If you chew gum or drink carbonated beverages, you may take in extra air that causes bloating.
  • Lactose intolerance. If your body lacks lactase (the body needed to digest lactose) you may experience nausea or bloating 30 minute to 2 hours after consuming foods like milk or cheese. In most people, the bloating or discomfort is not serious. 
  • Gluten intolerance. Some people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance may experience a feeling of gassiness or bloating after eating foods with gluten. Your doctor can determine if you have a sensitivity to gluten and help you develop a plan to manage the symptoms.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome. Certain types of foods (like sweeteners, certain fruits and vegetables or dairy products) may product uncomfortable gas and discomfort in some people. Your doctor may suggest a Low-FODMAP diet to determine which foods you are sensitive to.

Ways to Reduce Abdominal Bloating

The most common causes of abdominal bloating can usually be traced back to your last meal. If you can identify the food or the eating behavior that caused belly bloat, it becomes easier to reduce it in the future. You can use this list to identify the culprit and reduce bloating.

Some people take over the counter medications to reduce bloating. Products such as Beano can be taken with food.  According to the National Institutes of Health, medications like Gas-X, or Mylanta Gas taken after meals may also reduce the symptoms of abdominal bloating in some people.

When to Get Help for Bloating

There are some rare instances when bloating is more than just common digestive issues. So when is bloating something more? 

Sometimes your food intake is not the cause of abdominal bloating. Menstrual changes or food intolerance may cause belly bloat or puffiness. So it's important to pay attention when bloating occurs and talk to your doctor if the condition is chronic.

There are rare but serious conditions such as colon cancer, bowel obstruction, irritable bowel syndrome and other diseases that your physician may want to rule out if abdominal bloating becomes a problem.  Be sure to check with your health care provider if bloating becomes chronic or if you experience other problems such as abdominal pain, blood in your stools, diarrhea, or vomiting.

Sources:

Medline Plus. Abdominal bloating. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Accessed: January 6, 2016. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003123.htm

National Institutes of Health. Eating, Diet, and Nutrition for Gas in the Digestive Tract. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/gas-digestive-tract/Pages/eating-diet-nutrition.aspx. Updated July, 2016.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Gas in the Digestive Tract. National Institutes of Health. Accessed: January 6, 2016. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/digestive-diseases/gas-digestive-tract/Pages/overview.aspx

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