Stomach bloating: When should you see your doctor? Here are the warning signs


Stomach bloating is typically the product of a gassy food and drink binge. The result can leave people with a stretchy, puffy sensation in their tummy and painful abdominal cramps. The root cause of the complaint is usually a gassy build-up in the gastrointestinal tract, but it may also signify a more serious underlying condition. There are a several warning signs to watch out for.

According to Dr Oz, if a person finds bloating is “interfering” with their daily activities, this could be a red flag.

If people notice a persistent and unusually inflated abdomen or experience bouts of intense pain, they should contact their doctor, he added.

Another warning sign is sudden bloating in older age.

As Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, explains, most people first experience bloating when they are younger.

“But if someone is suddenly having bloating in older age, that’s sometimes a red flag that tells me something has changed and needs to be investigated,” he said.

What underlying health conditions could trigger bloating?

According to Harvard Health, these include:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome – a condition characterised by a combination of symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, Diarrhoea, or constipation) that last for three or more months.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease – an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
  • Celiac disease – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.
  • Constipation – a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation. “If you’re not emptying your gut, there’s no room in your abdomen, and you’ll have excess bloating,” explained Dr. Staller.
  • Gastroparesis – a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
  • Cancer – Colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.

A person’s tummy swelling may also signify a food intolerance.

According to the NHS, a food intolerance can lead to bloating when:

  • The bowel doesn’t empty properly
  • The food causes gas to be trapped
  • Too much gas is produced as a reaction to the food.
  • The main offenders are wheat or gluten and dairy products, says the NHS.

“The best approach if you have a food intolerance is to eat less of the culprit food or cut it out completely,” advised the health body.

The health site also recommends keeping a food diary for a couple of weeks noting everything that a person eats and drinks to identify what is causing the condition.

“But don’t get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP,” it added.

For most people, however, bloating can be fixed by making simple, quick, everyday adjustments. Dr Oz recommends slowing down when eating.

“If you slow down your eating, chances are good your gas and bloating will also go down. Aim to take at least 15 minutes to eat your meal,” he said.

Dr Oz also recommends temporarily cutting out fibre.

Although fibre is an essential component of a person’s diet and helps to aid indigestion, reduce constipation and reduce the risk of bowel cancer, it can be one of the worst triggers of gas, he explains.

He added: “Try cutting back on high-fibre foods for a week or so and then slowly add fibrous foods back into your diet.

“This will help you find the worst offenders when it comes to gas, while also helping you to find the right balance of gas and fibrr in your diet.”


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