Bloating Like a Balloon?
Bloating is one of the most common gastrointestinal complaints and a typical symptom that IBS sufferers experience, irrespective of IBS subtype. Bloating can be described as the feeling of increased pressure or gas in the gut, causing it to stretch. As well as feelings of discomfort, it is often a visible protrusion, almost looking like a pregnant belly – hello food baby!
There are many causes of bloating which can include; the volume of food and/or fluid consumed, a build-up of faecal matter in the intestines (constipation) and the gas produced by our gut bugs when attempting to break down fermentable carbohydrates, aka FODMAPs. There are also non-dietary related causes of bloating like stress, wearing tight clothes all day (thanks a lot skinny jeans) and little or no physical activity. Bloating is reported to be more prevalent amongst women. This is somewhat expected as the majority of reported IBS sufferers are women. However, there is also believed to be a connection between female hormones and bloating, with bloating often increasing around a woman’s period, however the exact science behind the connection is not fully understood and requires more research.
Everybody experiences mild symptoms of bloating and gas. This is normal and a sign of a healthy and functional gut!!! It is a result of the bacteria in our gut fermenting, or breaking down, carbohydrates our body can’t readily digest, like dietary fibre. This is important in maintaining the health of our digestive system as not only does this provide food for our gut bugs, but the gases they produce during the fermentation process are incredibly important and provide us with essential nutrients like amino acids, vitamins, short-chain fatty acids, which help maintain the integrity of the gut wall and immune function amongst other functions (check out previous blog posts like What’s the go with #GUTHEALTH and Make Friends with Fibre for some more info on these topics).
Although some intermittent bloating is normal, continuous and painful bloating is less common and should be reviewed by your GP first before anything else. How bloating presents in everyone is different, and can depend on your intestine’s sensitivity and how well your body absorbs the gas produced by your unique gut microbiota. Intestine hypersensitivity is a symptom of IBS and may explain why IBS sufferers experience heightened pain associated with bloating.
So now that you have some more information on what can cause bloating, here’s some tips that can help you manage your bloating and improve your symptoms:
Get moving. One of the most common causes of built up gas (and constipation) is physical inactivity. Commit to 5-10 minutes of an exercise that you enjoy!
Placing a heat pack to the belly can relax the muscles and promote blood flow to the area and reduce some of the pain and discomfort caused by cramping.
Taking medications like Buscopan, Mintec and DeGas which can be purchased over the counter. Ask your pharmacist for advice.
Stretching – can help relieve some of the built-up gas and reduce the pressure and pain
Let it out!! Although it may be embarrassing and is often the cause of major anxiety amongst IBS sufferers, doing it in a closed environment or walking outside and away from people can make it less embarrassing and will help you to feel much more comfortable!
Seek the help of a dietitian. We can help support you with diet and lifestyle interventions that are best suited to you.
Barrett, J. A bit of bloating is beneficial. 2016. Monash University. Available from: https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/a-bit-of-bloating-is-beneficial/
Foley, A, Burgell, R, Barrett, J.S., Gibson, P.R. Management Strategies for Abdominal Bloating and Distension. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. 2014; 10(9): 561-571.
Meenes S. The gut microbiome and irritable bowel syndrome. 2018; 7:F1000. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.14592.1
Rossi, M. Bloating: Time to deflate some myths. 2019. The Gut Health Doctor. Available from: https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/all-articles/bloating
Safaee, A et al. Bloating in irritable bowel syndrome. Gastroenterology and Hepatology From Bed to Bench. 2011; 4(2):86-90.
Webber, S. Tips for alleviating abdominal pain and bloating. 2016. Monash University. Available from: https://www.monashfodmap.com/blog/alleviating-symptoms-part-3/
Dr Bridgette Wilson. Could different types of fibre have unique effects on our gut bacteria? 2019. The Gut Health Doctor. Available from: https://www.theguthealthdoctor.com/all-articles/different-types-of-fibre
A note on the author
Hey I'm Abby! I’m a third year Dietetics student studying at the University of the Sunshine Coast. You can follow me at my Instagram @nutritionbyabby where I post simple, evidence-based dietary information, tips and tricks.