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What causes bloating and pain?

Posted 3 years ago by Jo

Bloating and associated pain is unfortunately a common problem. There are a number of different causes, and here we aim to unravel some of the potential common triggers. It can be helpful in identifying the causes of your bloating if you are able to pinpoint the exact location of the pain in your abdomen

Gas & Trapped Wind

Bloating is often caused by a build-up of excess gas, which can create a sensation of tightness and discomfort. This can be the result of a sluggish digestive system, when the bacteria in your gut are not able to breakdown the food sufficiently. 

Trapped wind is a problem that many of us experience at some point, and some people suffer from it on a regular basis. You might feel increased pressure in the stomach area, possibly accompanied by sharper pains that may come and go. This is almost always relieved by passing wind.  

Constipation

Constipation, poor gut motility and reduced peristalsis can lead to bloating. The pain associated with constipation is likely to be focused on the lower abdomen, relating to the location of the bowel (large intestine).

Colon

Constipation pain is focused around the colon area

Food intolerances

Food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance, may trigger bloating and abdominal pain, usually in the form of cramps in the lower abdomen. You can read more on this topic here

Gastrointestinal Infection

A bacterial or viral infection, known as gastroenteritis, for example E.Coli or Salmonella, can cause bloating and pain in the stomach. The discomfort will typically be located in both the upper abdomen and possibly in the large intestine (located in the lower abdomen) as the body attempts to expel the pathogen. It is likely that these symptoms will be accompanied by nausea, sickness and diarrhoea, as well as a fever.

Female bloating

Menstrual bloating is most likely to be focused in the lower abdominal area, reflecting the position of the uterus and female reproductive system. Some people experience abdominal swelling in the days before their period, and the arrival of the bleeding tends to ease it. Others may experience it immediately after ovulation.

Lower abdominal pain

Menstrual bloating and pain is located in the lower abdomen

Bloating is a common symptom of early pregnancy due to the increase of hormone progesterone which relaxes smooth muscle tissue. It is possible that the bloating may also be associated with a sensation similar to mild period pain as the uterus expands with the growing fetus. You may like to read more about pregnancy and bloating here

Colic

Bloating and pain can be a common problem for babies and young children, and is often referred to as colic (as many as 70% of babies experience this in the first few months of their lives). It may be worth trying to identify any food triggers, and determine if a food intolerance is the cause. 

Chronic Digestive Problems

There are a number of more chronic digestive complaints which may lead to bloating and pain, such as Crohn's Disease, Coeliac Disease, IBS, or a peptic ulcer. These symptoms may also be accompanied with altered bowel function, such as diarrhoea and/or constipation and heartburn.

Red Flag Conditions

There are of course more serious conditions of bloating and pain that one should be aware of, known as Red Flag conditions, and are perceived as medical emergencies. If you suspect you may be suffering from any of the following conditions, you are strongly advised to visit your GP.

There are other symptoms associated with these Red Flag conditions that may help you to identify, and hopefully rule out, whether it is something you may be experiencing :-

Appendicitis - (inflammation of the appendix) - typically starts with acute pain in the centre of your abdomen and may come and go. It travels to the lower right-hand side and is likely to become more severe. Pressing on the site will worsen the feeling. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, high fever.

Discomfort associated with an appendicitis starts in the centre of the stomach and then moves to the right

Ectopic Pregnancy - a positive pregnancy test, vaginal bleeding, shoulder tip pain (known as referred pain), diarrhoea and sickness

Ovarian Cyst/s - dull & heavy or sharp lower abdominal pain, menstrual changes, discomfort during intercourse, difficulty opening your bowels, feeling of fullness

Fibroids - heavy and painful periods, frequent urination, discomfort during intercourse

Ovarian Cancer - increased abdominal size and persistent bloating, difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, nausea

Stomach Cancer - persistent indigestion, trapped wind, heartburn, feeling full quickly, feeling nauseous, pain in the breastbone (sternum) & difficulty swallowing

Bowel Cancer - blood in your stools or rectal bleeding, a change in your normal bowel habits, unexplained weight loss

Peritonitis (inflammation of the peritoneum - the thin layer of tissue that lines the inside of the abdomen) - nausea, lack of appetite, a high temperature above 38 degrees C, not passing any urine or less than normal

Ascites (build-up of fluid in the abdomen usually indicating liver dysfunction) - sudden weight gain, a distended abdomen, difficulty breathing, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting, heartburn

We hope this guide helps you to identify the cause of your bloating and pain, of which there can be many. The reason for your bloating is unlikely to be serious or life threatening, but if you have any concerns at all, or you experience severe or sudden symptoms, we strongly advise you seek medical advice. 

You may be interested to read about Natural Remedies for bloating, which you can do so here. We have also written about some products that may be effective in helping to relieve these symptoms - click here to read about these products. 

Image source: medimise.com

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About Jo Saunders

Jo is a qualified Nutritional Therapist with a Diploma in Naturopathic Nutrition. She enjoys writing informative articles that take a holistic (whole) approach towards using food to help heal the body.

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