Whether it’s a bout of holiday tummy, heartburn after a heavy meal, or just occasionally feeling bloated, digestive trouble is one of the top five reasons we visit our doctors.
Not many of us are comfortable with talking about our bowel issues, whether it is food, baby related or something more serious which delays us getting help.
Here are five common causes of bloated stomachs.Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Could be the cause if you’ve been bloated on and off for a long time and have also experienced symptoms including pain, constipation and/or bouts of diarrhoea.
A common bowel condition, IBS is a functional disorder, which means the way the gut works is abnormal.
Peter Whorwell, professor of medicine and gastroenterology at the University of Manchester, says: “We think the gut is over-sensitive in IBS sufferers so its normal processes cause the symptoms.”
Bloating is one of the most disruptive side effects of the condition. Some women go up a couple of dress sizes and even need different clothes depending on whether or not they are bloated.
For many, it tends to worsen towards the evening, so it can disrupt your social life.
There’s no cure for IBS, but you can manage the symptoms.
“Cutting out cereal fibre eases symptoms by between 30% and 40% in the majority of sufferers,” says Professor Whorwell.
Try doing this for three months to see if it helps. Probiotics may also ease symptoms - Holland and Barrett stock these chewable probiotic tablets.Flatulence
Could be the cause if you are passing a lot of wind, but don’t notice any other symptoms.
We all experience flatulence from time to time: it’s perfectly normal to do so up to 15 times a day. Sometimes you may not even notice that you are doing it.
While there’s no medical definition of excessive flatulence, if it’s bothering you and makes life awkward or feels uncomfortable, there are steps you can take to reduce it.
Try cutting down on foods that are high in non-absorbable carbs such as beans and pulses, broccoli, cabbage, prunes and apples.
These tend to be digested very slowly and can release small amounts of sulphur gas while they pass through the gut.
Nutrition consultant Ian Marber says: “Eat food slowly and remember to chew. Without chewing, food is more likely to pass into the gut partially broken down and there’s a higher chance it will ferment and produce gas.”
Be aware that, occasionally, an underlying health could also be causing flatulence.Coeliac disease
Could be the cause if you often feel tired, you’ve lost weight for no apparent reason and you are suffering from abdominal pain.
Coeliac disease is an adverse reaction to gluten, which is found in wheat, barley and rye and all foods containing them including pasta, bread, pies and some gravies and sauces.
It is a condition where the body mistakes substances in gluten for a threat and attacks them, leading to damage to the surface of the small bowel, which then affects your ability to absorb nutrients from food.
It used to be mainly diagnosed in children, but it’s now known people can go undiagnosed into middle age.
If you have these symptoms, see your doctor. If you’re diagnosed, you’ll feel better once you start avoiding all foods containing gluten.Hormonal fluctuations
Could be the cause if you are premenstrual or in the early stages of pregnancy.
During pregnancy, and just before your period, levels of the hormone progesterone increase.
This can slow down gut movement, which means food passes more slowly through the body, leading to bloating and possibly constipation.
Exercise can help improve gut motility. Walking for 30 minutes a day could be enough to make the difference.
Remember to also drink plenty of fluids and eat lots of fruit, vegetables and whole grains to avoid constipation.Ovarian cancer
Could be the cause if bloating is persistent and you have other symptoms such as a perpetual feeling of fullness and abdominal pain.
The symptoms of ovarian cancer tend to be quite vague, which is often why it’s diagnosed late when it’s harder to treat, so it’s important to be aware of potential signs. It's important to go to your doctor rather than self-diagnosing.
Target Ovarian Cancer chief executive Annwen Jones says: “Key symptoms are bloating that is persistent rather than coming and going and increased abdominal size.
“It’s unlikely your symptoms are caused by a serious problem, but it’s important to be checked out.”
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