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Can Medicine cause Bloating?

Bloating and flatulence can occur as side effects of medicines that we have to take to treat all sorts of illnesses and conditions. For example, a popular medicine prescribed to treat excessive acid in the stomach warns that common side effects include sickness, diarrhoea, constipation, stomach ache, bloating, wind, heartburn (surprisingly) and a few others.

A commonly prescribed diuretic (a medicine for water retention or high blood pressure) lists ‘gastrointestinal disturbances’ as one of its side effects. Some drugs for diabetes also state that indigestion, sickness, bloating, diarrhoea or constipation can be caused. Of all the tens of thousands of drugs available for every condition imaginable, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of them may cause some sort of unwanted gastrointestinal effect, merely because the stomach is usually the first part of the body where they start to dissolve.

Some medicines have side effects including constipation, diearrhoea and bloating.

But, of course, it’s always a question of balance. Generally speaking, the benefits of modern drugs outweigh the risks or disadvantages, so side effects are inconveniences you just have to live with. In other words, if a drug that treats a heart condition causes flatulence, or one that successfully relieves the pain of arthritis also gives you occasional bloating of the stomach, then those are the prices you pay for protection or relief.

But at least you can discover the risks and be prepared for them. Always read the information leaflet that comes with your medicine. These are often never taken out of the packet, or simply thrown away. It not only tells you what the drug is for, what it contains, what to do and what not to do when taking it, but also includes warnings about pregnancy or alcohol intake, as well as possible side effects you might experience, such as stomach upset or drowsiness, and whether you should report them to your doctor or not.

Other valuable information is whether to take a particular drug with meals or between meals. This is because the effectiveness of some drugs is reduced when mixed with food, while on the other hand the absorption of nutrients from food may be affected by the drug. Taking your medicines at the recommended time can help to minimise side effects such as bloating or flatulence.

If you feel that since taking a particular drug you have started to have bloating of the stomach, excessive wind or stomach cramps that are disturbing your daily life, then go back to your doctor. There are often many drugs available to treat the same condition, and your doctor will try others until the effects are minimised and become tolerable.

One example of this was when a relative of mine was prescribed a statin, which is a group of drugs used to reduce cholesterol in the blood. (It is also being increasingly used for people whose cholesterol is normal but who have other risk factors for heart attack or stroke). The doctor started her on the first-line statin called simvastatin. This caused sleep disturbance, queasiness and muscle pain, so she returned to the doctor who put her on another statin called pravastatin. When the same thing happened she was then changed to another variation called atorvastatin and since then she has never looked back.

All drugs have slightly different effects on individual people, and one type will not suit everybody, particularly if it’s any more sophisticated than the common aspirin, which of course can have its own gastrointestinal effects (whether caused directly by the aspirin or its interaction with the common stomach bug Helicobacter pylori).

You can minimise the negative effects of your medicines by eating healthily, drinking plenty of water, and consider taking a probiotic supplement. If these do not work, go back to your doctor. You can find out how successfully or otherwise the treatment is working, and your doctor may well be able to switch you to an alternative to relieve any undesirable symptoms. 


About Adam Whitby

Adam has been involved in health and medicine for over thirty years, mostly reviewing clinical studies for general practitioners, writing patient information leaflets and producing medical video programmes.

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