Causes of Borborygmi (Stomach Noises)

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Borborygmi is the name for the sounds that comes 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 it when you have gas or food moving through your digestive system.

This article will discuss borborygmi and how they cause those strange noises in your stomach.

A female doctor examining a female patient during her home visit
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Common Causes

Food makes its way through the GI tract in a process known as peristalsis. Layers of smooth muscle that make up the GI tract's walls push food and fluids through your system. This movement can result in borborygmi.

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

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.

Borborygmi can also happen when you just 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 peristalsis 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 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.

Lifestyle Factors

It's important to note that borborygmi are normal. This simply means the intestines are working. There's no reason to worry about it unless the sounds and symptoms like gas are bothering you. 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.

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