Several factors, including air swallowed while eating, indigestion, and diseases like irritable bowel syndrome can cause excessive gas and bloating. Find out more about the causes, symptoms, and the treatment of abdominal bloating, through this HealthHearty article.
Abdominal bloating, flatulence, and belching are some common terms used to refer to the condition, where excessive gas accumulates in the stomach and the intestine. Bloating is the sensation of abdominal swelling and tightness, that people usually feel due to the presence of excess gas in the stomach or the intestine. On the other hand, flatulence is the term used for the act of expelling intestinal gas through the anus, while belching is the expulsion of gas from the stomach through the mouth.
Causes of Flatulence and Bloating
Air Swallowed While Eating
We swallow a small amount of air while eating or drinking. But the habit of eating rapidly, or gulping liquid, as well as smoking, can cause the ingestion of a larger amount of gas, which can accumulates in the stomach. Air swallowed in this manner rarely passes into the intestine and causes flatulence, as it is usually expelled through the mouth. The air we swallow while eating or drinking, basically contains oxygen and nitrogen. While oxygen is absorbed by the mucus lining of the gut, nitrogen is not absorbed in this manner, and so, it is either expelled through the mouth or passed to the intestine.
Gas Produced by Bacteria
Our digestive tract is the home to numerous bacteria, some of which participate in the digestion of carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are normally digested by the digestive enzymes. But some carbohydrates may not be completely digested by these enzymes, which gives an opportunity to the intestinal bacteria to participate in digestion, and produce gas as byproduct. The main constituents of this gas are carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. These gases are expelled from the large intestine through the anus, which is termed as flatulence. Sometimes, the gas expelled in this manner may contain a foul odor, which can be attributed to the presence of sulfur-containing gases.
Some other common causes of bloating are, the consumption of a high-fat meal and certain foods, like beans, cabbage, onions, cauliflower, broccoli, bread, apples, potatoes, sprouts, etc., which have the tendency of producing excess gas. Most of these foods either contain certain types of starch or cellulose, which are quite difficult to digest completely. The undigested starch reaches the colon and produces gas. Similarly, lactose intolerance and gluten intolerance can also cause abdominal bloating.
Apart from these, physical obstruction, that can happen anywhere from the stomach to the rectum, can cause excessive bloating and gas. The obstruction can be temporary or permanent. Examples of physical obstruction include scarring of the pylorus and constipation. Even functional obstruction caused by the poor functioning of the intestinal muscles can cause bloating. These muscles are responsible for propelling the content of the intestine, and when they are not working properly, the intestinal content accumulates and causes gas and bloating. Sometimes, frequent bouts of bloating may be associated with diseases like irritable bowel syndrome.
Symptoms and Treatment
The typical symptoms of this condition are, a feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen, excessive belching, excessive flatulence, constipation, and abdominal pain or cramps. Diarrhea may also be present in some individuals.
The diagnostic tests that may be employed for detecting the underlying causes of frequent abdominal bloating are, abdominal X-rays, intestinal X-rays, ultrasound, CT scans, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), malabsorption test, and methane breath test. All these tests help find out the exact causes of gas and bloating.
As far as the treatment is concerned, some simple dietary changes can help get rid of this condition. First of all, it is essential to avoid the habit of eating rapidly, in order to prevent the swallowing of a large amount of gas. One should also try to reduce the consumption of high-fat foods, and avoid the habit of lying down immediately after eating. At the same time, it is important to drink plenty of water, and replace large meals with frequent small meals.
Sometimes, you may be required to avoid or limit the consumption of certain foods, which contain starches that cannot be fully digested by the pancreatic enzymes. If pancreatic insufficiency is the root cause of this problem, then physicians may recommend supplemental enzymes. Apart from these, simethicone and charcoal are also used to treat this condition at times.
An overgrowth of bacteria, on the other hand, can be controlled temporarily with the help of antibiotics. However, surgery may be required if a physical obstruction is present. But if the obstruction is of functional nature, then medications like erythromycin or metoclopramide can provide relief.
To sum up, if you are suffering from bloating and gas, make some changes in your habit, especially in your dietary habit. But if such changes fail to provide any relief, then it is better to approach a medical practitioner or physician, to properly diagnose the condition and detect the underlying causes.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.