|So Your Tummy Is Bloated...
While most women experience the sensation of a bloated tummy at some point in their life, many will experience the condition on a regular basis. A bloated stomach causes a feeling of fullness, even if you have not eaten. It may also cause a tummy ache and cramping. Bloating can be caused by lots of different things, from eating certain foods that cause you to produce excess gas to a shift in hormones levels (just before your period for example) to allergies (such as lactose intolerance) and more serious illnesses like cancer.
12 Causes Of Bloating
The following is a list of some common, and less common causes:
1. Menstrual Period
Many women experience a bloated tummy and slight weight gain about 3 to 5 days before each menstrual period begins. The exact cause for this is unknown although it is generally thought to be linked to changes in hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone). Estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), taken as a treatment for menopause, may also cause some bloating when first started, but this usually goes away within a few weeks. Some birth control pills appear more likely to cause a bloating than others.
See: Will I gain weight on the contraceptive pill?
2. Dairy Allergy
Take note of your diet. Do you become bloated between 30 minutes to 2 hours after eating dairy? If so, you may be lactose intolerant. This means you cannot digest the sugar (called lactose) in milk and milk products. Common symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, diarrhea, nausea, cramping and flatulence. Lactose intolerance is very common, nearly 30 million American adults have some degree of intolerance by the age of 20.
3. Artificial Sweeteners
Do you drink lots of diet sodas or foods containing artificial sweeteners (including sugar-free gum)? If so, avoid them for a week or two to test if this could be the cause of your bloating. When buying products that are marked 'fat free' or 'sugar free', check first that they don't contain artificial sweeteners.
4. Too Much Salt
Excessive sodium (salt) can cause your body to retain water leading to bloating. Women who eat lots of processed ready-meal entrees are likely to be eating more salt than their body needs. If you eat foods high in salt, drink several glasses of water to help flush out the excess salt and to keep things moving.
5. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
If you have experienced bloating on and off for some time, along with bouts of constipation and/or diarrhea, you may have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS occurs when the intestines have exaggerated muscular contractions and symptoms tend to be worse towards the evening. It can be caused by food allergies, stress, hormones or even a parasite infection. In most cases IBS is managed with dietary and lifestyle changes. See our IBS diet plan and our free IBS recipes.
6. Reheating Food
Some women find that bloating only strikes when they eat out at restaurants, particularly if they have eaten pasta, potatoes or rice. This is often because these foods have been reheated. Reheating starchy foods changes their molecular structure so that they cause more gas to be produced. If you think this may be a cause of your bloating, you don't need to avoid these foods, just ensure that they are freshly cooked.
If you have a bloated tummy and are passing lots of wind, but don't notice any other symptoms, you may be suffering from flatulence (farting). Everyone experiences some flatulence, passing wind up to 15 times a day is considered normal. Flatulence is gas which is generated in the stomach or bowels. Sometimes flatulence can be related to IBS or constipation. If you suffer from excessive gas, chew your food more slowly to reduce the amount of air you eat with your food. Also avoid chewing gum and try drinking peppermint tea and eating probiotic yogurt, it may help symptoms. If symptoms persist talk to your pharmacist about taking charcoal tablets. The charcoal in these pills absorbs excess gas in the digestive system.
8. Celiac disease
If you suffer from bloating, abdominal pain, have lost weight for no reason and often feel tired, you may have celiac disease. This autoimmune condition damages the lining of the small intestine and prevents it from absorbing parts of food required for a healthy body. This damage is due to a reaction to gluten, a substance found in wheat, rye, barley and possibly oats. It can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. When you start avoiding foods containing gluten you will feel better very quickly.
9. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
GERD is a condition where the contents of your stomach flow back up the esophagus. Irritation of the esophagus can lead to heartburn, burping, nausea and bloating. There is usually a feeling of food stuck behind the breastbone, particularly after eating a large meal. Eating in smaller amounts and avoiding certain foods can help control GERD.
10. Ovarian cancer
Cancer that starts in the ovaries is called ovarian cancer. The symptoms of ovarian cancer include swelling or bloating of the abdomen, feeling full quickly after a light meal, and pain in the abdomen or pelvic area. Every year about 22,000 new cases of ovary cancer diagnosed in the United States and about 15,000 related deaths.
Uterine fibroids are non-cancerous tumors that grow in or on the uterus (womb). They can range in size from a small seed to a grapefruit or larger.
The location of fibroids is as important as size when it comes to symptoms. For example a 7cm fibroid which sits directly over the bladder can cause an annoying need to urinate at all hours. Whereas a 7cm fibroid directly over the uterus is more likely to cause stomach bloating.
See: Can fibroids cause bloating?
12. Ovarian Cysts
These are fluid filled cysts that form in or on the ovaries. Occasionally symptoms of ovarian cysts include a bloated tummy. More commonly they can cause irregular periods, cramps, painful intercourse and referred shoulder pain.
When To See A Doctor
If bloating is persistent and accompanied by any of the following, it is worth seeing your doctor:
• Urine which is dark in color.
• Blood in stools, or tarry dark stools.
• Persistent tummy pain.
• Severe Diarrhea that lasts more than 48 hours or comes and goes regularly.
See also, our article: Reasons for seeing a doctor.