Stomach bloating: Tummy swelling may signify this underlying condition – how to treat it

Stomach bloating typically describes what happens when too much gas fills up a person’s gastrointestinal tract. People tend to experience a stretching sensation in their tummy and painful abdominal cramps. Popular advice says to cut out gassy foods known to cause wind. If the problem persists, it may be a sign of an underlying condition.

Fibre moves food through the gastrointestinal tract quickly for better digestion

Dr Oz

One common underlying trigger is constipation.

According to Harvard Health, constipation is characterised by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation.

How does constipation cause bloating? As Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, explained: “If you’re not emptying your gut, there’s no room in your abdomen, and you’ll have excess bloating.”

One of the main ways to treat bloating caused by constipation is to eat more fibre, says the NHS.

As TV doctor Dr Oz points out, fibre-rich foods can push “stomach-clogging” materials out of the body.

“Fibre moves food through the gastrointestinal tract quickly for better digestion,” he said.

According to the NHS, it’s important to get fibre from a variety of sources, as eating too much of one type of food may not provide you with a healthy balanced diet.

The health body recommends trying the following to increase fibre intake:

  • Choose a higher-fibre breakfast cereal such as plain wholewheat biscuits (like Weetabix) or plain shredded whole grain (like Shredded wheat), or porridge as oats are also a good source of fibre.
  • Go for wholemeal or granary breads, or higher fibre white bread, and choose wholegrains like wholewheat pasta, bulgur wheat or brown rice.
  • Go for potatoes with their skins on, such as a baked potato or boiled new potatoes. Find out more about starchy foods and carbohydrates.
  • Add pulses like beans, lentils or chickpeas to stews, curries and salads.
  • Include plenty of vegetables with meals, either as a side dish or added to sauces, stews or curries.
  • Have some fresh or dried fruit, or fruit canned in natural juice for dessert. Because dried fruit is sticky, it can increase the risk of tooth decay, so it’s better if it is only eaten as part of a meal, rather than as a between-meal snack.
  • For snacks, try fresh fruit, vegetable sticks, rye crackers, oatcakes and unsalted nuts or seeds.
  • Drinking lots of fluids and exercising regularly also helps to get the bowels moving, notes the NHS.

“Even a 20 to 30 minute brisk walk four times a week can improve your bowel function,” it added.

According to Harvard Health, other underlying causes of bloating include:

  • Inflammatory bowel disease, an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.
  • Gastroparesis, a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
  • Cancer. Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.

It can also be caused by a reaction to certain foods, noted Dr Staller.

He said: “We all have an increased amount of gas in the body after eating them, but some of us react to them more severely than others.”

As Harvard Health points out, the main offenders are in a group known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols).

Examples include wheat, rye, onions, garlic, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), honey, pistachios, cashews, asparagus, and artichokes.

Keeping a food diary can help people to identify the worst offenders.

“But do not get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP,” warned the NHS.

Certain drinks can also help to beat the bloat. 

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