Common causes of abdominal bloating and 5 tips to reduce it

Bloated tummy has many causes and is associated with a feeling of discomfort in your abdomen. Here are some common culprits to take note and some tips to reduce bloating.

This common condition has many causes and is associated with a feeling of discomfort in your abdomen. Sometimes, you may feel pain or experience excessive belching and flatulence.

General and colorectal surgeon at Lim Jit Fong Colorectal Centre (Gleneagles Medical Centre), and a member of the Alliance Healthcare network, Dr Lim Jit Fong, says most causes of abdominal bloating tend to be trivial. The good news is these causes can be managed with some simple remedies at home. 

Causes of abdominal bloating

The most common cause of bloating in the tummy is due to excessive gas in your intestines. This can be from air that is swallowed while you are eating, or from gas that is a by-product of certain vegetables you eat. While some air in the intestines is normal, too much of it will cause you to feel bloated.

The good news is these symptoms can be treated with appropriate medication.

Another cause is too much fluid in your abdomen, but this is not so common.

Fluids outside the intestine or an abnormal abdominal mass can cause intestinal compression.

Excessive fluid in the abdomen – medically known as ascites, is most commonly due to liver failure.

It can be caused by heart or kidney failure, but this is less common. These conditions do not normally cause abdominal bloating in the early stages, so they are not the likely culprits of abdominal discomfort.

If bloating caused by gas or fluid is ruled out, your doctor will then look for abdominal masses that can cause bloating.

A cyst in the ovary can also cause bloating, and if it is large enough, can make a woman look pregnant. It can also be due to cancer affecting the internal organs of the abdomen. 

Feeling bloated? Here are some common culprits

Eating patterns, as well as the food you consume, could be contributing to your frequent bloating.

Not chewing your food well or eating too quickly will cause you to swallow more air.

Some also produce more gas when they are being digested in your stomach. They fall into three groups: beans, bulb vegetables and cruciferous vegetables.

Some examples of bulb vegetables include:

Some examples of cruciferous vegetables include:

These vegetables are very nutritious, but they produce a lot of gas when taken in large quantities.

Finally, constipation can be a cause of bloating. If you are constipated, you may visit the toilet only twice a week.

If you experience constipation, the gas cannot be passed out and that contributes to bloatedness too. If you only visit the toilet twice a week or pass hard stools, you may be suffering from constipation.

If you do go regularly, but have hard stools that are difficult to pass, you could also be suffering from constipation.

If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastritis or intestinal inflammation, your intestines are hypersensitive and that could cause you to feel bloated even when there is very little air in the intestine. Patients who suffer from these conditions or are experiencing food poisoning will feel bloated.

In Singapore, an estimated 10 per cent of the population suffered from IBS at some point in their lives. If you think you do have IBS, gastritis, or food poisoning, ask yourself these questions:

–  Do I suffer from abdominal pain?

–  Is the pain related to meal-time?

–  Does the pain come before I pass motion?

–  Do I have loose or watery stools?

If you answered yes to all the questions above, you should speak to your doctor soon.

Five simple tips to reduce bloating

Once you are sure you do not suffer from unusual symptoms other than abdominal bloating, you can try these tips to reduce your discomfort:

Eat slowly

Chew your food well and enjoy the meal. Doing this would introduce less air into your tummy. A wonderful side benefit from eating slowly is you can better control your food intake, which is good for reducing obesity.

Eat less gas-producing vegetables

By reducing the amount of gas-producing vegetables you eat by 50 per cent, you should be able to ease the symptoms of bloatedness.

Eat more fruit and drink enough water

Doubling your intake of fruit and drinking enough water will ease bloating in the abdomen. You’re on the right track when your urine is clear or light yellow in colour.

Exercise

Regular exercise helps with bowel movement. People who exercise at least three times a week for more than 30 minutes at a time are less prone to constipation.

Laxatives

If exercise does not help, try small amounts of over-the- counter laxatives. They are generally safe, but if you take these regularly, make sure you seek advice from your doctor. A natural alternative is to add ginger to your food, as this fragrant spice expels gas from your intestines.

Otherwise, you can try taking peppermint oil, which is available in capsule form and sold at pharmacies. 

When to seek medical attention

Gradual weight loss, blood in stools and/or urine, and lump in your abdomen on top of abdominal bloating, are some indications that you might be suffering from a serious medical condition.

If bloating is persistent or becoming frequent, consult with your doctor immediately.

If pain in the abdomen keeps recurring despite treatment, you should go for a check-up. You may need a short course of medication to treat the problem.

If you experience any other of these symptoms, you should also seek medical attention:

  • Change in bowel habits (stool frequency, size, consistency) for more than two weeks with no improvement
  • Abdominal pain that increases in severity
  • Sensation of incomplete bowel movement (a feeling of stool stuck in the rectum)
  • Unexplained appetite loss
  • Pallor (looking pale due to low blood count)

Very often, the cause may not be so serious, but these symptoms sometimes indicate stomach or colorectal cancer.

Speak to your family doctor first or seek a specialist's opinion. If you are worried about the possibility of colorectal cancer, you should speak to a colorectal surgeon for a thorough assessment.

Your doctor will recommend appropriate tests such as an endoscopy, blood tests and radiologic tests.  

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction

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