Feeling bloated? Here’s why and how to fix it

You may have no trouble zipping up your pants in the morning but by mid-afternoon your stomach feels full, tight and painful. Bloating is more common than you think.

Anyone who’s dealt with persistent bloating knows how frustrating – and yes, sometimes downright embarrassing – it can be.

You head out the door svelte and slim.

Four hours later your stomach feels full, stretched and uncomfortable.

Bloating can go hand in hand with excess wind and burping and you might also have diarrhoea and constipation. It’s not pleasant.

Gastroenterologist and Western Sydney University senior lecturer Dr Vincent Ho says of all the patients he sees with gut problems, one of the most common issues they experience is bloating.

“Around one in six people without a health problem and three in four people with irritable bowel syndrome report problems with bloating,” Dr Ho, also known as The Gut Doctor, says.

“In fact, for people with IBS and constipation, bloating is their most troublesome symptom.”

Why is my stomach bloated?

Perth-based GP Joe Kosterich says while a bloated stomach is usually a digestive issue, hormones and stress can play a part.

“The most common cause of bloating is excess intestinal gas, which can be caused by something as simple as the food you’re eating,” Dr Kosterich says.

“Fizzy drinks are another culprit and eating too fast, which can cause you to swallow air.”

Dr Ho says bloating can also happen when the food in your stomach moves too slowly through the digestive system.

“That’s because what you eat changes the type of bacteria you have in your gut, leading to bloating and gas,” Dr Ho says.

“Some foods such as foods high in sugars, fats, lactose and gluten aren’t absorbed very well in the small bowel.

“When they arrive in the colon they get fermented by bacteria and that can produce a lot of gas.”

Your menstrual cycle and food intolerances are other common causes of temporary bloating.

When should I be worried about bloating?

“In the absence of other symptoms, bloating is generally not a sign of anything too serious and will usually go away by itself but if it persists, it’s worth having a chat to your doctor,” Dr Kosterich advises.

Particularly if those symptoms include persistent or severe abdominal pain, blood in your stool (poo) or weight loss that occurs when you’re not trying to lose weight.

How do I get rid of bloating?

Depending on what is causing your bloating, there are a number of ways to treat it.

“Bloating will usually be greatly improved by simply adjusting your diet,” Dr Ho says.

“It’s a good idea to cut down on salty foods, carbohydrates and fizzy drinks and for some, avoiding foods containing onion or garlic, wheat, rye, lactose products or stone fruit may also help.

“Probiotics can also help to change the bacteria in your gut.”

For those with IBS, studies show following a low-FODMAP diet can help.

Foods high in FODMAPs include barley, yogurt, apples, apricots, pears, and cauliflower.

“If a food intolerance is causing your bloating, you might need to try an elimination diet to find out which foods are causing your problems,” Dr Kosterich adds.

New technology to help with bloating

Dr Ho says ground-breaking new technology is offering hope for sufferers of bloating, in the form of a gas-sensing capsule currently being trialled in Australia.

“The capsule is able to track the location of gas in the gut to give us a better understanding of what’s happening,” he reveals.

“So, if the capsule arrives in the colon and senses a lot of hydrogen gas it means that bacteria-fermenting foods are largely responsible for gas production and so dietary changes or probiotics should be helpful.”

To find out more about bloating and gut health, tune in to House of Wellness TV, Fridays at 2pm and Sundays at 12 noon on Channel 7. 

Written by Liz McGrath.