Causes of Borborygmi (Stomach Noises)

Stomach acidity, illustration

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 it can be loud enough to be audible from time to time.

Everyone has borborygmi, but people who have had surgery on the intestines may notice that these noises are louder than they were before. 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, a change in diet to avoid gassy foods or drinks with carbonation might help.

How Often Does Borborygmi Occur?

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 in its normal capacity again. In many cases, patients are not allowed to eat or drink any liquids or foods until these sounds are heard. When the intestines have started to make noises again, often some clear liquids are allowed. When clear liquids are tolerated, the diet can be moved up to a full liquid diet and then eventually to 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 happening 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, some tests might need to be done to determine if there's something wrong. This is especially the case if there are other symptoms, like abdominal pain or bleeding from the rectum. If there is acute pain in the abdomen, and no bowel sounds, it could be a very serious condition that requires immediate treatment.

What Causes 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.

Can Everyone Hear Your Stomach Rumbling?

In most cases, probably not, because these noises are loudest to you, the person experiencing them. At times, however, it can happen that they are loud enough for other people to hear. Everyone has had a time when they were very hungry and their stomach started making little noises. These noises might be even more pronounced in some people who have had certain kinds of surgery on the abdomen or on the intestines. If it happens to be embarrassing, a light remark such as "Oops, I forgot to eat breakfast!" or "Excuse me!" or something similar may help in letting the situation go by without further comment.

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