Bloating refers to a person’s sensation of abdominal fullness. This sometimes occur when excess air is trapped in your digestive tract, causing discomfort, though more commonly, it is due to increased awareness of normal amounts of gas. Causes of excess gas include excessive air swallowing from chewing gum, smoking, and drinking carbonated beverages. Increased production of gas can also occur from poorly absorbed foods such as lactose, fructose, artificial sweeteners and certain fruits and vegetables. With avoidance of these foods, minimizing air swallowing, and the passage of time, most bloating is preventable and manageable.
If you have persistent bloating that does not improve with these interventions, you may want to consider other causes. Bloating can be correlated with digestive disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease (gluten allergy) or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease). It can also be seen in chronic constipation, intestinal blockage, bacterial overgrowth, or cancers of the gastrointestinal tract.
If your bloating persists or is associated with pain, bloody stools, or weight loss, then it is important that you consult with your physician. Your doctor may want to order tests to determine the cause. Some of these tests may include an x-ray or CT scan of your abdomen, a colonoscopy, an upper endoscopy, or blood tests.
Bloating is common, and typically harmless, but if your symptoms don’t improve with dietary and lifestyle changes, or if you have other associated symptoms, consult your physician. These symptoms could indicate a serious medical issue.
Leila Kia, MD, Northwestern Medical Group, Gastroenterology