Causes of Borborygmi (Stomach Noises)

A doctor examining her patient during a home visit

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Borborygmi is the sound that comes from your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. While it's often simply called "stomach growling" or "stomach rumbling," it can stem from either the lower stomach or the intestines. Borborygmi is normal and can occur at any time. While it's usually most noticeable when you're hungry, it can occur at any time due to gas or food moving through your system.

Common Causes

The GI tract runs from the mouth to anus. Food makes its way from the tract's start to finish through a process known as peristalsis. Layers of smooth muscle that make up the GI tract's walls are what help get the job done. With a squeezing action, they push food and fluids through your system, and this movement can result in borborygmi.

Borborygmi stemming from peristalsis can also occur when you're experiencing diarrhea because of an increased volume of fluids and gas in the intestines, or bowel obstructions in which a narrowed intestine is attempting to force solid foods and liquids on through.

The intestines are often noisier after eating, since food is being moved through them. Borborygmi could subside at night when there is no (or less) active digestion taking place.

But borborygmi can also result from the presence of gas alone, though it's not certain exactly why. Gas is normal and a byproduct of intestinal bacteria processing foods that are not digestible, especially those that contain carbohydrates. It can also result from swallowing too much air.

How much gas you have is somewhat variable and is related to your diet as well as malabsorption caused by any gastrointestinal conditions that you may have, such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance. Many people think they have too much gas, but actually having a condition that produces excessive gas is rare.

While it makes sense that peristalsis could be noisy, you may actually notice borborygmi more when it has been a while since you've eaten. Because the stomach is empty, there's less in your system to muffle any noise. Furthermore, just as your digestive system contracts when processing food, it will also contract if there is an absence of food for some time, which can yield the same audible results.

There are no genetic risk factors for borborygmi.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

It's important to note that having "bowel sounds" is important because it means that the intestines are working.

If the noises are bothersome or embarrassing, it might help to change your diet to avoid gassy foods or carbonated beverages. While things like beans and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, to name a few) are known to be very healthy, eating a lot of them can trigger stomach rumbling and gas, so limiting them might help.

Additionally, reducing your intake of certain sugars, particularly fructose and sorbitol (found in fruits and used as artificial sweeteners), as well as acidic foods (such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and coffee) may help reduce borborygmi.

Drinking enough water, eating slowly, eating regularly (keeping snacks on hand), and avoiding overeating can also help to decrease borborygmi.

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 as they should and 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.

The diagnostic process will depend on the suspected cause, but could include a combination of a physical exam, labs, and imaging.

Clearing Patients to Eat After Surgery

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 borborygmi is detected. Clear liquids are then allowed, and the patient can progress to a full liquid diet and, eventually, solid foods once each step is tolerated.

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
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