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What Is Bloating?

Written by Adam

The term bloating refers to a stretched or swollen abdominal area, often accompanied by gas, causing the sufferer's tummy to feel tight and uncomfortable. Bloating can be caused by digestive health issues, water retention, or by hormonal imbalances. In this article I will focus on the most common form of bloating; that caused by digestive health issues.

Bloating can feel like your stomach 'blows up' after meals.

We often say that we feel bloated after eating a huge meal, or after we have over-indulged too many times while on holiday, but we know that this will settle down when we return to our normal habits. However, abdominal bloating can sometimes occur more frequently, be more troublesome and prolonged, and cause pain and discomfort. Sufferers from this type of bloating may also experience other symptoms such as stomach cramps, gas or flatulence, and diarrhoea or constipation. And as food intake is often reduced because of those problems, bloating sufferers may also experience tiredness and fatigue.

Gas & Wind

Gas is one of the normal by-products of a healthy digestive process, and is usually dealt with either by rising up the gullet causing belching or burping, or breaking wind. In bloating, the build-up of excessive amounts of gas in the intestines has to find an urgent way of escaping, so may be uncontrollably and noisily released, accompanied by distinctly unpleasant odours. This can, of course, become socially upsetting and embarrassing, adding to the overall discomfort of bloating. (Read more about flatulence and bloating here.)

Bloating can be uncomfortable, read more about products for bloating.

Bloating is normally a sign that your digestive health is not up to scratch, and as with many other health problems, this is usually caused by some sort of imbalance in the body. The gut, particularly the colon (the main part of the large intestine) is heavily colonised by about 100 trillion bacteria which carry out certain essential tasks such as helping to break down food, and extracting nutrients. These beneficial and helpful bacteria are known as good or probiotic bacteria, but they exist together with others that are not friendly at all, and these are the bad or 'pathogenic' bacteria. A delicate balance of these types of bacteria (collectively known as the intestinal or gut flora) normally keeps our digestion well regulated and running smoothly. However an imbalance - caused by a poor diet, antibiotics, high sugar levels, or even stress - means there are fewer of the good probiotic bacteria in the gut. This is known as dysbiosis. Try your best to eat healthily, to get enough sleep, and to avoid antibiotics unless absolutely necessary; in order to keep your body's good bacteria plentiful.

Other factors to consider

Apart from dysbiosis, other factors causing bloating could include food intolerance - when the body is unable to digest food properly, waste gases are produced and these lead to protrusion of the belly, and bloating. Often people bloat after eating certain foods; for many these trigger foods are beans or pulses, for others it may be wheat and gluten, or even rice. Keeping a food diary is a good way of recording which foods you may be intolerant to - if you end up bloated every single time you eat bread, it might be worth replacing your lunchtime sandwich with a salad! For more information see What causes bloating?

Over to you - What is bloating to you?

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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