EVERYONE has experienced it – that too-full feeling you get in your belly that can be seriously uncomfortable.
And bloating is far more common than you may think with figures showing that 70 per cent of people regularly suffer from belly woes, with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, acid reflux and plain old constipation as the three most common causes.
However, having a swollen tummy isn't always down to eating too much rich food or a bad case of IBS as some may think.
There are a variety of other reasons your gut is in a rut, some serious and some not so serious – and as Dr Sarah Jarvis says, "it’s important to think about whether you’re feeling constantly bloated or whether the bloating comes and goes."
Here Dr Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of Patient.info, talks The Sun Online through the main reasons you could be plagued by a bloated stomach and when you should go and see your GP pronto.
Causes of a bloated belly
1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
One of the most common causes of bloating which comes and goes is irritable bowel syndrome, which affects about one in five adults.
It’s a ‘functional’ gut disorder – there’s nothing wrong with any one part of the bowel, but the various parts don’t work smoothly together.
Other symptoms include tummy pain which usually comes and goes and may get better when you open your bowels; diarrhoea, constipation or a mixture of the two; and sometimes wind, feeling sick or tired and headache.
If you develop these symptoms for the first time, you should still see your GP even if you think you have IBS, as it’s important to make sure that’s the cause.
Eating foods which produce a lot of gas as they’re digested can also cause bloating.
Common culprits include broccoli, sprouts, beans and pulses and starchy food like potatoes and noodles as these tend to be digested very slowly and can release small amounts of sulphur gas while they pass through the gut.
Reducing these foods in your diet can often relieve the symptoms.
3. Coeliac disease
Coeliac disease is an intolerance to a protein called gluten.
Unlike gluten intolerance, it’s important to avoid even the smallest amount of gluten in your diet permanently – that means cutting out all foods containing wheat, barley and rye.
Ways to beat bloating in a week
Nutritional therapist Natalie Lamb has outlined a seven day plan in order to help with bloating. Here are the seven steps:
- Start taking a multi-strain probiotic.
- Use apple cider vinegar before each meal to support digestive function.
- Reduce simple sugars and refined carbohydrates.
- Start eating more fibre.
- Drink cups of homemade bone stock or including it in soups and stews.
- Leave legumes to soak well overnight. It will ease their digestion if they cause you bloating.
- Relax more. Stress is known to reduce the levels of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
It’s sometimes diagnosed in babyhood or childhood, but in adults it can cause bloating, colicky tummy pain, tiredness due to anaemia and mouth ulcers.
If you suspect you may have coeliac disease, speak to your GP – if they agree, they may do a blood test which can rule it out or confirm it.
4. Inflammatory bowel disease
There are two kinds of inflammatory bowel disease – Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The main symptoms are usually tummy pains and diarrhoea, often with blood and/or mucus, but it can also cause bloating.
You may also be generally unwell with a fever when you have a flare-up. Any bleeding from your back passage should always be checked out, especially if you’ve also got other symptoms such as being off your food, losing weight or a change in your bowel habit.
5. Ovarian cancer
Persistent bloating can be a sign of ovarian cancer, yet only a third of women in the UK would go to their doctor about it, according to women's charity The Eve Appeal.
"Bloating is something that most of us experience from time to time (often when we have eaten something that doesn’t agree with us), and when people learn that persistent bloating can be a sign of ovarian cancer there is often a lot of panic and confusion," Athena Lamnisos, chief executive of The Eve Appeal, told The Sun Online.
If your abdomen is swollen or ‘puffy’ and causing you discomfort for three weeks or more, then although the chances of it being ovarian cancer are very small, we still recommend going to see your doctor
"Persistent is the key word here. If your abdomen is swollen or ‘puffy’ and causing you discomfort for three weeks or more, then although the chances of it being ovarian cancer are very small, we still recommend going to see your doctor."
You shouldn't automatically put bloating down to weight gain or other conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – although it is much more likely to be caused by this.
Research shows stress can go straight to your stomach, which is why anti-depressants are used for some people with resistant IBS symptoms.
Other drug-free methods are worth trying first, such as hypnotherapy, relaxation techniques and looking at ways to manage your stress day-to-day
7. Hormonal fluctuations
During pregnancy, and just before your period starts, levels of the hormone progesterone are raised.
This can slow down movement in your gut, which means food passes more slowly through the body, leading to bloating and possibly constipation.
Exercise can help improve gut motility and walking for 30 minutes a day could be enough to make the difference.
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