Most people experience periods of bloating, which involves a tight, full feeling in the stomach that’s often combined with gas.
Although it’s very common and generally not serious, the condition can cause extensive discomfort.
Fox News Digital spoke with two gastroenterologists for more information about how to manage or prevent bloating symptoms so you can better digest the situation next time it happens to you.
Here are details.
What exactly is bloating?
Tightness in the gut and feeling overly full are usually the first signs of bloating.
“Bloating refers to a person’s sensation of abdominal fullness,” said Leila Kia, M.D., an associate professor of medicine at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.
“This sometimes occurs when excess air is trapped in the digestive tract, causing discomfort — though more commonly, it is due to increased awareness of normal amounts of gas,” she told Fox News Digital.
What causes bloating?
There are many different causes of bloating, including these common triggers.
Certain foods, such as beans, lentils, cruciferous vegetables and carbonated beverages, can produce gas during digestion.
This happens either by the fermentation of gut bacteria or by fluid being drawn into the digestive tract, said Kyle Staller, M.D., director of the GI motility laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in the Boston metro area.
Individuals diagnosed with lactose intolerance often experience bloating, gas and diarrhea after consuming dairy products, said Staller, who is also a spokesperson for the American Gastroenterological Association.
“Lactase supplements can help break down lactose, reducing these symptoms,” he said.
Certain medical conditions, such as celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease, can lead to secondary lactose intolerance.
During women’s menstrual cycles, hormone levels — particularly estrogen and progesterone — fluctuate to regulate the process, Staller said.
“In the days leading up to menstruation, the body retains more water, and this can contribute to bloating,” the doctor said.
Overeating or sluggish bowel movements
When someone overeats, the digestive system is tasked with handling a larger amount of food than it’s accustomed to processing.
“Imagine your digestive system as a team of workers in a factory — they are responsible for breaking down the food you eat into smaller particles, absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste,” Staller said.
“When you eat more than your body needs, it’s like sending an overwhelming amount of work to the digestive team,” he went on.
“As a result of this excess workload, the digestive process may slow down because there’s so much food to break down, which can lead to a backlog in the digestive system.”
“When you eat more than your body needs, it’s like sending an overwhelming amount of work to the digestive team.”
As the digestive system works harder to break down the surplus food, more gas is produced as a natural byproduct.
This excess gas can accumulate in the stomach and intestines, the doctor said.
An enlarged stomach can also put pressure on neighboring organs and structures, leading to a feeling of fullness and bloating. Constipation can also happen as a result, according to the expert.
How to reduce bloating
Lifestyle changes can help to prevent bloating from happening in the first place.
Diet modification can be effective, Staller said. He recommended identifying and limiting the foods that tend to cause gas and bloating.
As mentioned earlier, some common culprits include beans, certain vegetables, carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals — and chewing food thoroughly, to reduce the amount of swallowed air — can also be helpful, according to the doctor.
Staller also recommended drinking plenty of water to help maintain regular bowel movements and prevent constipation, which can contribute to bloating.
Regular exercise can also promote healthy digestion and help alleviate bloating.
Treatments for bloating
Some over-the-counter remedies may help alleviate symptoms.
Anti-gas medications may provide relief by breaking down gas bubbles in the digestive tract, although evidence of their effectiveness is rather limited, noted Staller.
If an underlying medical condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), is causing bloating, a health care professional may prescribe medications to manage symptoms.
Fiber supplements may also be helpful, although Staller noted that “not all fiber is created equal.”
He said, “I generally recommend soluble fiber as the best for IBS, which is one of the more common causes of bloating. Soluble fiber — found in foods like oats, beans and fruits — can be beneficial for bloating.”
Although fiber can help bloating, it can also cause the condition, the doctor warned.
It’s advisable to introduce fiber supplements gradually to allow the digestive system to adjust.
“Starting with a low dose and increasing it over time can help minimize potential side effects like gas and bloating,” said Staller.
What if lifestyle changes don’t help?
Although bloating is common and typically harmless, Kia from Northwestern cautioned that if symptoms don’t improve with dietary and lifestyle changes, or if there are other associated symptoms, it’s important to consult a physician.
“If a person has persistent bloating that does not improve with lifestyle or diet interventions, one may want to consider other causes,” Kia told Fox News Digital.
“Bloating can be due to digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome, celiac disease, or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease),” she said.
“It can also be seen in chronic constipation, intestinal blockage, bacterial overgrowth or cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.”
These conditions require specific treatments aimed at treating the underlying problem, the doctor said.
“Bloating typically improves when the underlying cause is addressed.”
It’s also important to consult a physician if bloating persists or is associated with pain, bloody stools or weight loss, she emphasized.
“Your doctor may want to order tests to determine the cause,” Kia said. “Some of these tests may include scans of the abdomen, a colonoscopy, an upper endoscopy, or blood and stool tests.”