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Abdominal Bloating

Definition

Abdominal bloating is a condition in which the abdomen (belly) feels full and tight. The abdomen may be visibly swollen (distended).

Alternative Names

Bloating; Meteorism

Causes

Common causes include:

  • Air swallowing (a nervous habit)
  • Constipation
  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lactose intolerance and other food intolerances
  • Overeating
  • Small bowel bacterial overgrowth
  • Weight gain

The diabetes medication acarbose, as well as any medicine containing lactulose or sorbitol, may cause bloating.

More serious disorders that may cause bloating are:

  • Ascites and tumors
  • Celiac disease
  • Dumping syndrome
  • Ovarian cancer
  • When the pancreas is not able to produce enzymes to help digestion (pancreatic insufficiency)

Home Care

You may take the following steps:

  • Avoid chewing gum or carbonated drinks, especially those with high levels of fructose or sorbitol
  • Avoid foods such as Brussels sprouts, turnips, cabbage, beans, and lentils
  • Do not eat too quickly
  • Stop smoking

If you have constipation, it should be treated. However, fiber supplements such as psyllium can make your symptoms worse.

You may try simethicone and other medicines you buy at the drugstore to help with gas, but these medications are often not helpful.

See: Lactose intolerance for more on how to treat this problem.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stools or dark, tarry looking stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn that is getting worse
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

References

Bailey J. FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:1098-1100.

Ohge H, Levitt MD. Intestinal gas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2006:chap 10.