Bloating: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Distention of the Stomach Caused by Overeating or Gas

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Bloating is stomach distention due to pressure inside the organ. This uncomfortable feeling of fullness or tightness can make your stomach appear larger.

Bloating may be caused by how and what you eat, abnormal reactions to food, or certain medical conditions. How you relieve bloating depends on what's causing it.

This article looks at the causes and symptoms of bloating plus how to treat and prevent it, and when it's concerning enough to call your healthcare provider.

Bloating Symptoms

Symptoms of bloating include:

  • Your stomach may stick out
  • Feeling full and/or uncomfortable
  • The skin around your stomach may feel stretched and tight

Depending on the cause, bloating may be accompanied by other symptoms like cramping as well.

What Causes Bloating?

Bloating tends to be linked to certain foods and beverages, as well as eating habits that cause the build-up of gasses in the digestive system. But there are other potential causes as well.

How You Eat

If you have regular bloating, the first thing to do is take a look at your eating habits.

  • Eating too much: Bloating happens when you put more into your stomach than it can easily handle.
  • Eating too fast: Eating quickly can cause you to swallow a lot of air, which can lead to bloating.

Abdominal bloating will continue until the food in an overfull stomach is digested or accumulated gas is released. This can take hours or days.

What You Eat or Drink

What you eat or drink can also lead to bloating.

  • Gum and carbonated beverages: These can increase the amount of air you swallow.
  • High-fiber foods: These can increase healthy gut bacteria, which can cause bloating if you aren't used to eating them.
  • Alcohol: Wine, beer, and hard alcohol may cause temporary bloating by irritating your stomach lining.

Food Sensitivity, Intolerance, and Allergy

Food sensitives occur when your body isn't able to process certain substance. When you eat foods containing that substance, it triggers an immune reaction that produces symptoms but is not life-threatening (as an allergy can be).

Common substances that can trigger food sensitivities and intolerances are:

  • Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, for reasons that are yet unknown
  • Lactose, a sugar in dairy products, in people who lack the enzyme needed to digest it

Food allergies can range from mild to life-threatening. A substance in food you're allergic to triggers an immune-system response that leads to symptoms, including bloating.

Common food allergies include:

  • Eggs
  • Milk and other dairy products
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts

Conditions

Several medical conditions can cause bloating and other digestive symptoms. Common ones are:

Bloating can also be caused by the hormonal fluctuations that occur during menstruation.

Bloating Treatment

Most bloating doesn't need medical care. To manage it on your own, you can try:

  • Movement: Walking and other simple exercise can help get the digestive system moving
  • Abdominal self-massage: Also can help get gasses moving through the digestive tract
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications and supplements: Can help ease or prevent bloating

OTC medications and supplements for bloating include:

  • Antacids containing simethicone: Adhere to bubbles in the stomach so gas is more easily released
  • Pepto-Bismol (bismuth subsalicylate): May help reduce bloating caused by an upset stomach
  • Beano (alpha-galactosidase): An enzyme that breaks down complex carbohydrates into more digestible sugars so they don't cause gas
  • Lactaid (lactase): Provides the enzyme needed by people with lactose intolerance
  • Probiotics: "Good" bacteria that help maintain the health of the digestive system; available as supplements and in foods like yogurt and kefir

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Bloating is rarely a sign of a serious medical problem.

If you notice that you become bloated after eating certain foods, bring it up to your healthcare provider. You may have a food sensitivity or intolerance.

Call for an appointment if you have long-term bloating that doesn't respond to changes in eating habits or OTC treatments. It may be due to certain conditions that need to be diagnosed and treated.

Besides those conditions already mentioned, this includes kidney or heart failure—both of which can cause fluid to accumulate in the abdomen.

Identifying Trigger Foods

It helps to keep a food journal in which you note what you eat and when bloating occurs. You and your healthcare provider may then be able to see a pattern. Be sure to note any other symptoms, as well.

How to Prevent Bloating

Verywell / Lara Antal

To keep yourself from getting bloated, you can:

  • Eat slowly
  • Have smaller meals with healthy snacks in between so you don't overeat
  • Eliminate trigger foods from your diet
  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Don't chew gum
  • Cut down your alcohol consumption
  • When increasing dietary fiber, go slowly
  • Get checked for medical conditions and, if you have one, follow your treatment regimen

It may help to see a dietitian, who can help you make positive changes to your diet and eating habits.

Summary

Bloating—when your abdomen sticks out more than usual—is usually accompanied by a feeling of fullness and discomfort. However, it is rarely something to worry about.

Bloating can be caused by eating habits like eating too quickly or too much, certain foods and beverages, constipation, or hormonal changes related to the menstrual period.

But bloating can also have a medical cause that requires diagnosis and treatment, including IBS, food sensitivities, food intolerances, food allergies, and even heart or liver failure.

Many OTC medications may help relieve bloating. If you continue to have frequent bloating, make an appointment with your healthcare provider.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does bloating last after a meal?

    Bloating usually lasts until the stomach is emptied. This process depends on several factors and can take around two hours (sometimes more).

  • How can I avoid bloating?

    To prevent bloating, try to avoid foods that make you gassy, as well as bubbly drinks. Eating slowly may also help.

  • How long should I take to eat?

    It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to signal your brain that you're full. Taking between 20 minutes and 30 minutes to eat a meal may lead to eating less and a reduced chance of bloating.

  • Why should I avoid drinking with a straw?

    Drinking with a straw increases the likelihood of swallowing air, which can lead to gas and bloating. The same goes for fizzy drinks, like soda, which contain lots of bubbles.

9 Sources
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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