Feeling bloated? Here are some top tips for finding relief
What is bloating?
Your bowel always contains a certain amount of gas. Most of this gas enters via your oesophagus (gullet) when you swallow whilst eating or drinking. Gas tends to rise, so if you are sitting up it often escapes back through your mouth in the form of belching. If you are lying down, it may continue to pass down into your stomach and then into your bowel, resulting in a feeling of bloating. Gas can also be produced by the bacteria in your gut interacting with the food you eat. Either way, the gas will eventually escape the bowel when you pass wind.
What causes bloating?
Some food types lead to excess gas production when they are digested by the bacteria in your bowel. The main culprits are listed below:
- Vegetables such as broccoli and brussels sprouts
- High-soluble-fibre foods like peas and beans
- Foods containing lots of starch such as corn, noodles and potatoes
Lactose intolerance is a common condition whereby your body cannot digest foods containing the dairy-based product lactose. It can lead to tummy cramps, bloating and diarrhoea.
Fructose is another natural sugar that can be poorly tolerated. High fructose foods include dried fruit, honey, onions and artichokes. Fructose intolerance causes similar symptoms to lactose intolerance.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) – the cause of IBS is not entirely understood, but it is thought to be due to a disturbed function of your bowel, which should contract rhythmically to push food along. These contractions can be disturbed by overactive nerves or muscles in your bowel, and the result is often symptoms of cramping or bloating. IBS can also cause increased sensitivity in the bowel, leaving you feeling bloated even when normal amounts of gas are present. Other factors that can exacerbate IBS include food intolerances or an infection in the gut, known as gastroenteritis. About 1 in 5 people will experience IBS at some point in their lives, and women are twice as likely to be affected
- Coeliac disease – gluten is a protein found in foods that contain wheat, barley or rye. If your body develops an intolerance to gluten, then this is known as coeliac disease. Eating gluten-containing foods can lead to bloating, cramps or diarrhoea. Other symptoms include weight loss or anaemia. It can occur at any age but is most commonly diagnosed in people aged 50 to 69. Coeliac disease is very common, affecting around 1 in 100 people in the UK
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – this term includes a number of conditions, but the most common types are ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Both types involve inflammation in your bowel that can cause tummy cramps, bloating and diarrhoea that may contain blood. It often comes and goes in ‘flares’, where the symptoms worsen for a period of time. IBD is a more serious diagnosis than IBS, so you should seek medical advice if you think you might be affected
- Ovarian cancer – although less common than the conditions above and unrelated to your bowel, ovarian cancer can cause symptoms resembling a problem with the bowel, such as feelings of pressure in your lower tummy, loss of appetite, and feeling bloated. It most often affects women over the age of 50. If you are concerned that you may have ovarian cancer you should speak to your doctor immediately
How can I relieve my bloating?
Since bloating is often caused by foods that cause excess gas production in your bowel, in general, it can be straightforward to find relief. If you are able to identify a particular food type that triggers your feelings of bloating, then try to cut it from your diet. Even if you are not intolerant to one particular food type if may be beneficial to reduce your intake of some of the gas-producing foods mentioned above.
If you are diagnosed as being lactose intolerant. avoid dairy products containing lactose, use lactose-free milk, or take a lactose digestive aid such as a lactase supplement. If you do cut dairy products from your diet, it is beneficial to take a calcium supplement instead. Avoiding fructose-containing foods if you are fructose intolerant will similarly help to relieve your bloating.
If you notice that foods containing gluten cause you to feel bloated, you may have coeliac disease or be gluten intolerant. If you suspect that you have coeliac disease, you should see your doctor. They may run some tests and will likely advise switching to a gluten-free diet to help relieve your symptoms, although it may take a few weeks until you notice an improvement.
Exercise has also been shown to reduce symptoms of bloating, mainly because it helps gas to exit your body. The NHS recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity every week. Moderate activity is defined as enough to increase your heart and breathing rate.
If you think you have symptoms of IBS, avoiding common triggers such as coffee or alcohol may help to relieve bloating. Exercise is also beneficial for IBS, and reducing stress levels through yoga or meditation can have a positive effect.
Bloating is a very common complaint that is typically due to excess gas in your bowel. Simple measures such as dietary changes to reduce or cut out foods that make you feel bloated, or increasing your levels of exercise can be beneficial. If you suspect that a medical condition might be the cause of your bloating, you should speak to your doctor right away. They will be able to offer you the best advice about how to treat your symptoms and find relief.