Causes of Borborygmi (Stomach Noises)

A female doctor examing a female patient during her home visit

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Borborygmi is the sound that gas makes as it moves through the intestines. It can occur when you're hungry, but it can also happen after meals. It's often called "stomach growling" or "stomach rumbling." Borborygmi is normal and most of the time no one can hear it, but sometimes it can be loud enough to be audible to people around you.

Everyone has borborygmi, but these noises may be louder in people who've had surgery on their intestines. This is not necessarily a cause for concern. In fact, having "bowel sounds" is important, because it means that the intestines are working to digest food and move it through the body. If the noises are bothersome or embarrassing, it might help to change your diet to avoid gassy foods or carbonated beverages.

When Borborygmi Happens

The intestines are often noisier after eating, which is because the food is being moved through them. At night, when we sleep, these noises may subside if there is no active digestion taking place.

After a person has abdominal surgery, a doctor will listen to the abdomen with a stethoscope. This is to hear if the bowel has "woken up" and started to function normally again. In many cases, patients aren't allowed to eat or drink anything until the bowel is making sounds. Then, clear liquids are allowed, and if they're tolerated, a full liquid diet is the next step, and then, eventually, solid foods.

An Absence of Bowel Sounds

When these regular sounds in the digestive tract are missing, it's called the "absence of bowel sounds." If the stomach and intestines are not making noise, it could mean that they are not working, or not working as they should. This lack of noise could indicate that there is a problem in the digestive tract.

If a physician listens to the abdomen with a stethoscope and doesn't hear anything, or doesn't hear what they expect to hear, they might order tests to determine whether there's something wrong. This is especially the case if you have other symptoms, such as abdominal pain or bleeding from the rectum. If you have acute pain in the abdomen as well as no bowel sounds, it could be a very serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

Causes of Intestinal Gas

Everyone has gas in their intestinal tract. How much gas a person has is somewhat variable and is related to their diet as well as any digestive conditions that they may have. Gas can occur from swallowing too much air, or from the normal process of food breaking down in the small intestine.

The gas is a typical byproduct of the digestive process because the bacteria in the intestines are processing foods that are not digestible, especially those that contain carbohydrates. Many people think they have too much gas, but it is a normal part of digestion, and actually having a condition that produces too much gas is rare.

A Word From Verywell

While borborygmi are most often normal and natural, and even a sign of proper intestinal function, loud stomach noises can be embarrassing. When yours interrupt at an awkward moment, try to keep in mind that they happen to everyone, so most people should understand.

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Article Sources

  1. International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). A Noisy Tummy: What Does it Mean?. Updated October 2, 2019.

  2. Du X, Allwood G, Webberley KM, Osseiran A, Marshall BJ. Bowel Sounds Identification and Migrating Motor Complex Detection with Low-Cost Piezoelectric Acoustic Sensing Device. Sensors (Basel). 2018;18(12). doi:10.3390/s18124240

  3. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract. Published July 2016.