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Can bloating be serious?

Posted 3 years ago by Clare

In general bloating is likely to be caused by digestive upset, bacterial imbalance, food intolerances, hormonal cycles, or even simply eating too much. You name it! However, there are times when bloating, stomach distension or a feeling of fullness may be a sign that there is something more serious going on. Bloating can indeed be a sign of ovarian, colon or stomach cancer. In all of these cases the growth can cause a discomfort or persistent bloating, but may be misunderstood as just IBS or putting on some weight.

This website is all about natural ways in which to overcome bloating. However, to mark Ovarian Cancer Month this March, we wanted to write an article that underlines the importance of taking warning signs your body gives you seriously. Going to the doctor and discussing your symptoms is the first port of call. Focussing on your wheat and dairy intake may be applicable once you have been given the all clear.


Bloating is usually a sign of a digestive disorder, however it can be a sign of something more serious

How do I decide whether to see the doctor or not?

Making the distinction between bloating caused by food, and bloating potentially caused by a cancer, isn’t always an easy call and if in any doubt whatsoever, I would suggest that you talk to your doctor. I always maintain that we know our bodies best, and tend to have a feel for when things aren’t quite right.

In general if you feel bloated after a large meal, or always bloat after eating a particular food, and have no distension otherwise, then it is more likely that the bloating is a digestive issue. However, a feeling of fullness and bloating that hasn’t been there before and doesn’t go away should initially be a cause for concern. Another reason for diagnosis being tricky is that it is very common to become bloated with PMS or other hormonal changes such as the menopause. It may be tricky for women to distinguish between the two.


Make a list of your concerns before going to see the doctor

It might be useful to check what other symptoms are considered to be a risk. The NHS ‘be clear on ovarian cancer’ symptoms are the following:

  • Feeling full quickly or loss of appetite
  • Pelvic or stomach pain
  • Needing to pee urgently or more frequently than normal
  • Changes in bowel habit
  • Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
  • Unexplained weight loss

You can read more about this on the NHS website

If you have any combination of these you should go to your doctor. Being constantly bloated, putting on or losing weight without changing your diet, unusual changes in your menstrual cycle, or bleeding after the menopause, are all symptoms that you should take to your doctor. There are some resources to help you with recognising symptoms including an app you can download to help you track your symptoms, and some guidelines for getting the most out of your visit to the doctor. I have listed them below. 

I’ve mainly been talking about bloating caused by ovarian cancer; however other cancers in that area of your body can also cause discomfort, bloating or a distended abdomen. Both Cancer Research and the NHS list symptoms on their website for these. Colon cancer for example, can block the colon and tends to be a cause of more of a progressive bloating. If the tumour is lower down, then it may be accompanied with some bleeding. However, if it is higher up then bloating is likely to be the first symptom as the colon becomes more blocked. Stomach cancer usually has very vague symptoms at first, such as indigestion, feeling of fullness, bloating.

Getting the balance right

Early screening and diagnosis for all of these cancers can increase survival rates. The last 6 years or so in the UK has seen a huge emphasis on people recognising symptoms and taking these concerns straight to the doctor. The NHS ‘be clear on cancer’ campaign has been pushing for people to take symptoms seriously, and this has resulted in an increase in referrals and early cancer detection and survival rates. I cannot emphasis enough the importance of taking your symptoms seriously, and also communicating these concerns to your doctor too. Fear of not wanting to face something you are afraid of leads many people to ignore symptoms in the hope they will go away. Facing the fear is an important part of keeping yourself well and healthy.

Having said that, symptoms such as bloating or pain is your body’s way of indicating to you that something is either not right, or simply out of kilter. This may be a warning sign of something serious or just turn out to be a nuisance. However, acting on this is important even if the diagnosis is, thankfully, and most likely, not serious. Remember also that a healthy digestion and absorption is a crucial part of vitality and health. Dealing with a food intolerance or bacterial imbalance is also important for your long term health. Having any fear or worry alleviated will leave you free to address the symptoms naturally. So if you have had your bloating checked by your doctor, then you may find the following blog posts a helpful read.

Natural remedies for bloating

What causes bloating

Stress and bloating



Getting the most out of your GP visit 

Target Ovarian Cancer website - symptom checker and app info

Cancer research website

NHS website - about ovarian cancer

Bowel cancer symptoms

Stomach cancer symptoms

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