What Causes Bloating After Eating And How to Treat It

HealthHearty Staff Oct 27, 2018
'Bloating', one of the common digestive complaints; could be an indication of an underlying medical condition, if it is persistent and severe. Here is a brief overview about the condition.
Bloating is often linked to overeating and heavy meals. No doubt, the amount and choice of food is a major factor that can contribute to bloating, but did you know that it can also be caused by certain medical conditions? Even some lifestyle factors are linked to bloating and stomach pain after eating.
Occasional bloating may not always indicate an underlying health problem. However, if it happens on a regular basis or if the symptoms are severe, you must seek medical attention.

Why do You Feel Bloated?

Bloating is often associated with tightness in the stomach, flatulence and belching. Mostly, this happens due to the presence of large amounts of gas in the stomach. Normally, a small amount of gas is produced in the intestines, as a byproduct of digestion.
In some cases, a large quantity of gas is produced in the gut, due to various causes like impairment of the digestive process. This increases the pressure inside the abdomen, which may expand to accommodate the contents. This explains the inflated tummy, due to bloating. The increase in pressure causes the tight feeling and the occasional cramping and pain.
Stomach pain caused by bloating may radiate to any other location, like the chest and back. The body tries to expel the gas through belching and by passing wind. The symptoms may subside in a few hours or take a few days, according to the severity of the condition and the underlying cause.
Some people tend to swallow excess air into the stomach, leading to bloating. Even physical obstructions (like tumors) in the intestines may cause bloating. The causes of bloating can be broadly classified into lifestyle factors and medical conditions.

Causes of Bloating - Medical Conditions

Food intolerance:

Bloating is one of the classic symptoms of food intolerance, which may also cause nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation. This condition should not be confused with food allergy.
Food intolerance symptoms usually appear within a few hours or days after ingestion. This condition is caused by the body's inability to produce the specific enzyme needed for digesting that food. It is mostly associated with foods, like wheat (gluten intolerance), dairy products, soy products, shellfish, eggs, peanuts and chocolate.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS):

It is said that around 95% of people with IBS suffer from regular bloating. Mostly seen in women, IBS can cause other symptoms like nausea, abdominal pain, and change in bowel habits.
Distension of the stomach is very common with bloating caused by IBS. The degree of distension increases with every meal. Irritable bowel syndrome may be associated with other conditions like migraine, fibromyalgia, depression and anxiety too.

Hormonal Fluctuations in Women:

It has been observed that bloating is more common in women, as compared to men. Frequent fluctuations in hormone levels is one of the causes for bloating in females. The symptoms are usually experienced during ovulation, menstruation, pregnancy and menopause.
During ovulation and pregnancy, the increased level of progesterone is said to affect the abdominal muscles. These muscles relax, thereby causing constipation and resultant bloating.
It has been observed that bloating is more frequent in those with polycystic ovary syndrome. Another medical condition that is linked to bloating in women is ovarian cancer. It is said that persistent bloating, along with abdominal pain, could be a symptom of ovarian cancer.

Aerophagia:

A condition that is caused by swallowing excess air into the stomach, aerophagia is characterized by abdominal bloating and belching. Mouth breathing is one of the causes for this condition. Stress and anxiety are also linked to mouth breathing and resultant aerophagia.
Those who use CPAP machines may also experience bloating, as there are chances of involuntary swallowing of air (from the machine) into the stomach. This is mostly seen in cases where the machine delivers too much air.
Use of fizzy drinks and chewing gum are also among the causes of aerophagia. Swallowing food without proper chewing may also lead to a bloated stomach after eating. Avoid smoking and use of straws for drinking.
Other medical conditions that are associated with bloating are constipation, gastric insufficiency, gastric dumping syndrome, intestinal parasites, diverticulosis, and partial bowel obstruction. Stress triggers irritable bowel syndrome, which is a cause for bloating.
Use of antibiotics can disrupt the balance between the good and bad microorganisms in the gut. Antibiotics can reduce the population of the good bacteria in the intestine, thereby disrupting the digestive process. Reduction in the number of good bacteria paves way for proliferation of bad ones that can cause problems, like bloating.

Lifestyle Factors and Bloating

Faulty Eating Habits:

Eating fatty foods in large amounts, eating too fast without chewing the food properly and eating while moving, can lead to bloating. These are some of the factors that affect the production of digestive juices in the stomach.
Low levels of stomach acids may not be sufficient for digesting food, especially protein. The partially digested food enters the intestine and causes bloating.
Drinking water in large amounts at a time may also be a cause. Chewing gum is said to cause bloating, as air is swallowed when you chew it. If the gum contains artificial sweeteners, it could increase the severity of bloating.

Intake of Foods that Cause Bloating and Gas:

Heavy meals are often linked to bloating after eating. However, certain foods can cause bloating, even if they are consumed in small amounts.
Some common gas-producing foods are - 
  • Fried fatty foods
  • Milk and dairy products
  • Fruits like banana, apple, melon and prunes
  • Vegetables like cucumber, radish, corn, onion, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Cereals and wheat products
  • Dried legumes and some types of whole grains
  • Some of the nuts and seeds used for snacking
  • Drinks like wine, beer and carbonated or caffeinated beverages
Reheating food is also said to be a cause for bloating. In case of starchy foods, reheating results in alteration of the molecular structure of starch. Such foods do not digest properly and cause bloating. 
While some of the mentioned foods are rich in fiber, some others are rich in protein or certain types of sugar. These foods ferment in the intestines, thereby producing gases that cause bloating.

How to Get Rid of Bloating After Eating

  • As diet is found to be a key factor that is linked to bloating, try to make a list of foods that trigger the symptoms. Avoid consumption of such foods.
  • Avoid having fried and fatty foods, along with carbonated and caffeinated drinks. Reduce intake of raw foods as well as foods rich in fiber. Processed foods must also be avoided.
  • Instead of large meals, try to have small, frequent meals. It will be better to take fruits at least an hour before meals or two hours after it.
  • Try to stay calm while having food. Sit straight and chew the food slowly. It will be better to chew with your mouth closed, so as to avoid intake of air into the stomach, along with the food.
  • Avoid reheated foods and those that are too hot or cold. Including foods with probiotics (like organic yogurt) may prove beneficial for some. 
  • Drink lots of water and have a balanced diet. However, minimize water intake along with food, as it can dilute the stomach acids. This will hinder the process of digestion and cause bloating.
  • Avoid lying down, soon after having food. You may go for a short stroll that will boost the process of digestion. Sleep on your left side instead of the right and elevate your head with pillows. Avoid smoking and use of other tobacco products, for relief from bloating.
To conclude, bloating can cause immense discomfort and embarrassment. Seek immediate medical attention, if you are suffering from bloating on a regular basis.
In case of any underlying medical condition, early diagnosis and treatment would be beneficial. However the mode of treatment may vary from one person to another, as per the underlying cause. Above all, regular exercise and a healthy lifestyle can work wonders in preventing bloating.
Disclaimer: This write-up is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.