Causes of Borborygmi (Stomach Noises)

Excessive stomach noises may stem from diarrhea or other intestinal issues

Borborygmi describes the sounds that come from your gastrointestinal (GI) tract (the pathway from your mouth to your anus). While they're often simply called "stomach growling" or "stomach rumbling," these sounds can come from either the stomach or the small or large intestine.

Borborygmi can occur at any time. The sounds are usually most noticeable when you're hungry. You hear them when you have gas or food moving through your digestive system.

This article will discuss borborygmi and what causes them.

A female doctor examining a female patient during her home visit
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What Are Borborygmi?

Borborygmi is the medical word for the sounds your stomach and intestines sometimes make. These sounds can happen as the layers of smooth muscle that make up the walls of your GI tract push food and fluids through your system.

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

What Causes Borborygmi?

Borborygmi can happen when you have gas in your stomach. Gas is normal and a result of intestinal bacteria processing foods that you can't digest. This includes food that contains carbohydrates. You may even experience borborygmi when you swallow too much air.

The amount of gas you have can change from day to day. Certain conditions can make it hard for some people to digest foods like dairy or wheat, which can lead to more gas and diarrhea—and the sounds that go along with them.

While it makes sense that the digestive process could be noisy, you may actually notice borborygmi more when it has been a while since you've eaten. Because your intestines are empty, there's less matter in your digestive system to muffle any noise.

And just as the muscles in your intestines contract when processing food, they're still at work if it's been a while since you've eaten something. This causes the same noisy results.

Diarrhea

You may experience more borborygmi when you have diarrhea since there's an increased amount of fluids and gas in your intestines.

Bowel Obstruction

Borborygmi can also occur when you have a bowel obstruction where solid foods and liquids are trying to pass through a narrowed or blocked part of the intestine.

Lactose Intolerance

Borborygmi may also be a sign of lactose intolerance, though it will often be accompanied by other symptoms such as diarrhea, abdominal pain, and flatulence. This is because people with lactose intolerance aren't able to completely digest lactose, a sugar present in milk. Instead, the lactose travels into the large intestine, where it is partially broken down into gas and acid. This is what causes the uncomfortable symptoms of lactose intolerance. 

Celiac Disease and IBS

Borborygmi may also occur in people with celiac disease. Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition triggered by gluten, a protein in wheat and other grains. 

In people with celiac disease, borborygmi may happen alongside other symptoms, such as nausea, diarrhea, stomach pain, and bloating. 

Celiac disease can have symptoms that are similar to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). People with IBS may also report borborygmi along with symptoms like stomach pain, gas, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation.

Abdominal Adhesions

Abdominal adhesions are bands of scar tissue that sometimes form inside the body after abdominal surgery. Adhesions can cause pain and discomfort, bloating, and altered bowel habits. They may also be associated with borborygmi. 

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This video has been medically reviewed by Rochelle Collins, DO.

Lifestyle Factors

It's important to note that most of the time, borborygmi are normal. They simply mean the intestines are working. There's no reason to worry about them unless the sounds and accompanying gas are bothering you or they occur alongside other symptoms.

To make your stomach less noisy, you can try changing your diet to avoid gassy foods or carbonated beverages. Beans and cruciferous vegetables (such as broccoli, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts, to name a few) are known to be very healthy foods. Unfortunately, eating a lot of them can trigger stomach rumbling and gas. Limiting these particular vegetables might help you avoid a noisy stomach.

Cutting down certain sugars in your diet, particularly fructose and sorbitol (found in fruits and used as artificial sweeteners) may help reduce borborygmi. And eating less acidic foods (such as citrus fruits, tomatoes, and coffee) may also help reduce embarrassing tummy noises.

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

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. This may mean there's a problem involving the digestive tract.

If a doctor 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 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 what the doctor suspects is the cause, but it could include a combination of a physical exam, lab work, or imaging (ultrasound, x-ray, or an MRI).

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 are detected. Clear liquids are then allowed, and the patient can progress to a full liquid diet. Eventually, the patient can eat solid foods.

Summary

Borborygmi are the sounds that come from your GI tract. These rumbling or growling noises are a normal part of the digestion process. You can sometimes hear them as food and fluid are pushed through your GI tract.

If the noises bother you, think about changing your diet. For example, avoiding gassy foods or carbonated beverages can help. When a doctor can't hear the sounds with a stethoscope, it could signal a problem with your GI tract, especially if you have other symptoms like pain or bleeding.

A Word From Verywell

While borborygmi are usually normal and natural, and even a sign of proper intestinal function, loud stomach noises can be embarrassing. When yours interrupts at an awkward moment, try to keep in mind that this happens to everyone. Most people will understand.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does your stomach growl?

    The stomach growls due to peristalsis, or the digestive process of pushing food and fluid through the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This process can produce sounds that are called borborygmi.

  • What causes bloating?

    Bloating is often caused by eating too much, eating too fast, eating foods high in fiber, swallowing air, drinking alcohol, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and menstruation. It can also occur when eating foods and beverages that cause an excessive buildup of gas.

  • What causes hyperactive bowel sounds?

    Hyperactive bowel sounds are caused by increased intestinal activity, either on its own (after eating a meal) or because of an underlying condition. Conditions that can cause hyperactive bowel sounds include Crohn's disease, food allergy, diarrhea, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding, infectious enteritis (inflammation of small intestine), and ulcerative colitis. This can result in the stomach making loud gurgling or churning noises.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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