Bloating - Causes, Treatment and Prevention

Article

13. 08. 2021 Gastroenterology

Bloating and excessive flatulence are something that each one of us deals with from time to time.  However, if you suffer from frequent or severe flatulence/bloating, then it might be worth seeking out appropriate treatment or trying different preventive measures. In this article, you will learn about the causes of bloating, how to deal better manage it and how to effectively prevent it.

What exactly is bloating?

Abdominal bloating occurs when the gastrointestinal tract gets filled with air or gas, causing swelling of the abdomen. Such discomfort is often caused by certain foods but can also be caused by aerophagy (swallowing of air), the activity of intestinal bacteria, dyspepsia (various digestive problems) or ileus (intestinal obstruction). The gases produced by the gastrointestinal tract are often partly absorbed by the intestines and the rest leave the rectum as flatulence.

Generally, humans produce flatus (gas) that leaves the body of a healthy individual about 10 to 15 times a day- a gaseous volume of about 1 litre. We talk about bloating when an increased amount of gas is formed in the body, which is then insufficiently absorbed or does not leave in a natural way. Due to more pronounced hormonal fluctuations, women are more prone to bloating, especially in the period before menstruation, during pregnancy or during menopause.

 

Causes of bloating

Bloating and flatulence can affect anyone- from newborns to the elderly, where usually it is a temporary problem resolved quite quickly, most often caused by a dietary issue.

One of the common causes of flatulence can be certain carbohydrate-containing foods, which the human body cannot digest fully in the stomach and small intestine. Flatulent foods include cabbage, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, legumes, onions, and milk. However, gas may also be a sign of an allergic reaction to a specific type of food (soy, eggs), or intolerance to gluten (coeliac disease) or lactose intolerance.

Especially in the elderly, bloating is often the result of impaired digestion and bowel motility. Various comorbidities of the liver, stomach, pancreas and intestines, constipation or dental problems may also be to blame.

However, there is a multitude of other causes of bloating/gassiness- certain medication, an insufficient drinking regime, low physical activity, stress and very rarely, cancer. Therefore, if a patient suffers from frequent and problematic bloating frequently, it would be advisable to make an appointment with their doctor.

TIP: If you suffer from severe bloating, it is often very useful to keep a food and symptom diary in the days prior to your doctor’s appointment to help determine the root cause of your problems.  

 

Treatment

The treatment of bloating consists mainly of lifestyle changes, which involve ensuring a suitable diet and plenty of exercise. The following is a little summary of the ways to treat and prevent bloating/wind and the foods that can make the situation worse.

 

Food, herbs, and teas that help fight the bloat!  

To reduce the bloating properties of legumes and some vegetables, it is good to cook these foods together with herbs - fennel, oregano, thyme, cumin, basil, ginger, mint, coriander, marjoram.

Herbal tea blends are suitable for those who suffer from bloating regularly or after almost every meal. Chamomile tea, lemon balm, butterbur, wormwood, and thyme all aid to reduce bloating. Tea mixtures made of fennel, lavender and topped hawks are great for breastfeeding women, tea made from lemon balm, mint, linden blossom and fennel for children, and tea made from a mixture of Himalayan herbs is suitable for bloating during pregnancy.

For general elimination of bloating, it is recommended to include more fibre in the diet, e.g. in the form of fruit (bananas, grapefruits and apples). Oats, dried fruits, almonds, brown rice, buckwheat, chickpeas, avocados, and similar foods also have a high fibre content. Fermented dairy products with live culture (e.g., kefir), whole grains, potatoes, lean meats, rice, and some fresh vegetables (e.g., cucumbers, tomatoes, beets) are also beneficial.

As a rule of thumb, foods that can cause bloating include peas, beans, lentils, nuts, cabbage, onions, sprouts, and broccoli. Wine, plums, fresh white or sourdough bread, fatty, salty, or spicy foods, simple sugars (sweets), ripened cheeses, instant meals, alcohol, and carbonated lemonades.

 

How to get reduce bloating

In general, we can follow a few simple tips and tricks on how to prevent and reduce bloating and flatulence ↓

  • Exercise – a regular walk can help ensure healthy bowel movements
  • Drinking plenty of fluids – 2 to 2.5 litres of still water or unsweetened herbal tea is recommended each day.
  • Adequate fibre– see the high fibre foods mentioned above. Soluble Psyllium husk is a suitable supplement for a simple addition of fibre into your diet.  
  • Peace and quiet – prevention is also not to overeat, allowing yourself enough time to eat your food and having more frequent and smaller meals throughout the day (about 6 to 8) and chewing your food properly.
  • No bubbles and sodium– Avoid carbonated drinks and limit your sodium intake.
  • Potassium – a good source are ripe bananas
  • Herbs – see the list of beneficial herbs and teas above.
  • Medication – if none of the above has any effect, opt for one of the over-the-counter medicines available (see above). However, if you suffer from frequent, severe, and painful bloating, it might be necessary to seek medical advice.

 

Bloating during pregnancy

The cause of bloating in pregnancy is an excessive production and accumulation of gases in the intestines. In the early stages of pregnancy, this is mainly controlled by progesterone. At a later stage, the growing uterus often pushes into the intestines, so that the process of food and gases passing through is mechanically slowed down.

Following a few simple suggestions is usually sufficient to treat bloating during pregnancy:

  • appropriate dietary composition and taking enough time for food,
  • smaller portions of food several times a day,
  • rest while lying down about 2 hours after the meal (not immediately after it),
  • plenty of movement (short walk, ball exercise, swimming, pregnancy yoga ...),
  • deal with constipation, which is common especially during pregnancy (Lactulose syrup, for example),
  • warmth on the abdomen (a warm pillow is often enough)

 

When to see your doctor

"Increased flatulence is one of the symptoms that make the so-called dyspeptic syndrome, a collection of symptoms all concerning digestive problems, sometimes referred to as functional dyspepsia.  Occasionally, increased flatulence may occur after a longer period without food, for example, if you skip breakfast and then have a larger lunch after several hours.

In addition to the above reasons, these bloating and increased flatulence can also be caused by various diseases of the digestive tract. They usually occur together with, for example, nausea, diarrhoea or constipation, increased gas (flatulence) or gurgling/noises in the abdomen (borborygmus). If we can rule out that these symptoms are not associated with diet or poor lifestyle, we should start to be vigilant. Risk factors and warning signs causing suspicion of various gastrointestinal diseases are an age> 50 years (risk of colorectal cancer), weight loss, blood, or pus in the stool. The aim of further diagnosis is to determine the cause of prolonged problems, especially the exclusion of colorectal cancer, diverticular disease of the colon, IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease), intestinal infections or food allergies, incl. intolerances ”explains Mgr. Ing. Jitka Jirků, nutritional therapist from Canadian Medical. To rule out a more serious cause of bloating, the doctor will perform a basic laboratory examination, an ultrasound examination, an X-ray of the abdomen and will consider an endoscopic examination.

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