Abdominal bloating

Definition

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

Alternative Names

Bloating; Meteorism

Considerations

Common 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 make enzymes needed for 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 or 100% brancan 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.

Call your health care provider if

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

What to expect at your health care provider's office

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. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2010:chap 16.