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Bloated stomach: causes and treatment

Lesley Dobson / 21 September 2020

What's causing your stomach to bloat, and what can you do to ease it?

Gas causing brussel sprouts in a serving bowl
Brussels sprouts are well known for their tendency to produce gas

Many of us know the symptoms that come with bloating. It can feel as though your tummy is expanding, making it stretch and swell. In medical terms it’s known as abdominal distension.

Finding relief from the discomfort of this swelling can start with undoing the button on your trousers or skirt (not always the easiest move if you’re in a social situation). But this is only a temporary measure. Finding out what’s causing the bloating is important, especially if it’s something that bothers you often.

Gut instinct: recognising bowel disorders

What causes a bloated stomach?

There are a number of possible explanations behind bloating. A build-up of excess gas in your stomach and intestines can be the source of the problem – and the abdominal pain that can come with it.

This can be a result of your diet. Eating fatty foods may slow down the process of emptying your stomach. Having carbonated drinks, eating too quickly and chewing gum can also lead to bloating.

Is it IBS or a food intolerance?

Can what I eat affect bloating?

Some foods are well known for their tendency to produce gas. Brussels sprouts, beans, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, milk and whole-grain breads all have a reputation for being gas-producing foods. Stress, anxiety and smoking may also cause bloating.

Not being able to properly digest and absorb foods in your small intestine (this can happen with Crohn’s disease), can mean you produce more gas than normal. This is most common after eating foods high in carbohydrates – vegetables, beans, pulses, whole grains and fruit.

Beat bloating with food swaps

Why chewing your food more might help cut bloating

Try not to bolt your food down in a hurry. Ideally, you should find a relaxed time and place to eat your meals, and chew each mouthful properly (especially if it includes high-fibre foods).

Eat slowly, with your mouth closed (unless you are putting in another forkful), and try not to talk too much. This should help reduce the amount of air you swallow. Rather than eating a big meal in the evening, aim for smaller meals, more often. Do the opposite of this, with a large meal late in the day, and that food will be left in your system, which may lead to an uncomfortable night.

How to be a mindful eater

How to cure a bloated stomach

If it’s too late for the preventative measures discussed above, and your abdomen is feeling like an over-filled balloon, try burping, passing wind, and emptying your bowels.

Your pharmacist may be able to suggest some over-the-counter remedies, such as charcoal tablets, or probiotics, which can increase the amount of ‘friendly bacteria’ in your system and ease digestion.

If none of these suggestions help with this uncomfortable problem, see your GP. It may be that your bloating is part of another health problem.

10 natural diuretics to help beat bloating

What else could cause a bloated stomach?

Bloating can be a sign of other conditions, as well as being a problem on its own. These include:

  • Coeliac disease - this happens when you can’t absorb gluten (found in wheat, barley and rye, and in some cases, oats) and can cause bloating and tummy pain, diarrhoea and long-term tiredness.
  • Constipation
  • Food intolerance– often caused by dairy products, wheat or gluten
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease – including Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative colitis (UC)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

When to seek help for a bloated stomach

If you have sudden onset and severe abdominal pain, it could be a sign of something more serious than just a tummy upset. The possible causes include appendicitis, a peptic ulcer that has come through your stomach lining, and diverticulitis - this is when parts of your bowel have become inflamed.

Always seek help if you have:

  • Severe pain in your abdomen that appears out of the blue and doesn’t go away
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blood in your poo
  • Recurring bouts of diarrhoea or constipation

See your GP. If you are in a lot of pain, which won’t go away, go to an emergency walk-in clinic, or A&E at your local hospital.

Need to talk to a GP from the comfort of your own home? Saga Health Insurance customers can talk to a qualified, practising UK GP 24 hours a day by phone. Find out more about our GP service.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.