Each year in the United States, seventeen million people complain of frequent gas; while twenty-seven million people struggle with excessive bloating. Discomfort from bloating and gas can often be prevented or treated, and our goal is to educate you so you can help yourself.
To start on your road to recovery, it is important to understand the differences between bloating and distention.
Bloating is the feeling you get when your abdominal region is larger.
Distention is the actual “physical” finding that your abdominal area is larger than normal.
You can feel bloated without actually being distended. For example, if you eat a large meal you may feel bloated, but you are not actually distended. To be distended, the abdomen must increase in size by one quart.
Distention is a more serious condition than bloating, and it can be caused by three different things:
To determine the source of your distention, you must identify if you have continuous or intermittent distention. Continuous distention is swelling of the abdomen for a considerable period of time, with no signs of relief. The cause can be one of four things.
- Enlargement of an organ within the abdomen
- A tumor in the abdomen
- An increase of fluid around the organs in the abdomen
Intermittent distention can come and go and is usually triggered by ailments which inhibit proper digestion, and cause an accumulation of fluid or gas within the digestive system.
Identifying and separating bloating and distention are important because your treatment will vary based on diagnosis.
Many different things can cause bloating, distention, gas and flatulence. Identifying your cause is important for proper treatment.
One common cause is irregular digestion.
When the digestive system is working properly, food is digested by chemical reactions and broken down into components. From these components the body obtains nutrients and energy to use as fuel.
Food that is not broken down is considered waste and is eliminated from your body. Some of the waste comes in the form of odorless gases and are easily handled by the intestinal canal.
When your body is not digesting properly, sulfur-bearing gases are produced and accumulate in large pockets. These gases stretch your intestinal canal producing the painful effect of bloating.
Sulfur-bearing gases can be caused by:
- Lactose and food intolerance
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Food allergies
- Gas-producing foods
- Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, brussel sprouts, onions, artichokes and asparagus
- Fruits such as pears, apples, peaches
- Whole grains – whole wheat, bran
- Soft and fruit drinks
- Milk and milk products
- Artificial sweeteners – Sorbitol & fructose
The production of gases is not the only cause of bloating, distention, gas and flatulence. Other common causes of pain and discomfort could be:
- Alvarez’ syndrome (neurotic bloating w/out the presence of gas)
- Partial bowel obstruction
- Menstruation and premenstrual stress syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome and ovarian cysts
- Intestinal Parasties
- Diverticulosis or diverticulitis
- Peri-menopause & menopause
There are medical tests that can diagnose bloating, gas and flatulence. Your doctor will start by taking a complete medical history and physical exam to determine if your symptoms are intermittent or continuous.
If the doctor determines that your symptoms are intermittent, the cause can be attributed to an increase of gas, which can be solved with lifestyle changes.
Alternatively, if your symptoms are determined to be continuous, the cause may be attributed to digestive diseases, enlarged abdominal organs, abdominal fluid, obesity or tumors.
To identify the cause, more comprehensive tests are needed. They may include:
- Abdominal x-rays check for the presence and location of large accumulations of air.
- Small intestinal x-rays determine if there is an obstruction in the small intestine.
- Gastric-emptying studies measure the ability of the stomach to digest and empty.
- MRI, ultrasound, and CT scans identify the presence of tumors, enlarged abdominal organs and abdominal fluid.
- Mal absorption and mal digestion ~ look for an increase of fat in the stool which may indicate a digestive disease.
- Methane/hydrogen breath tests measure the amount of hydrogen or methane in an individual after a meal to identify bacterial overgrowth.
Gas symptoms, while embarrassing are not indicative of any serious condition. A visit to the doctor may be helpful but not necessary. You should see a doctor when you are experiencing abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, constipation, bleeding from the anus and/or weight loss.
Treatment and Prevention
Another very effective solution is to replace the natural digestive enzymes our body loses as we age. A good digestive enzyme will contain multiple enzymes, since each type of food that
is ingested requires a different enzyme to break it down.
One of the first and easiest lifestyle changes you can make is to keep a food diary. On a daily basis, note what you eat, how much you eat, what time you eat, and how you felt afterwards. Evaluate your results after one week. Seek foods, combinations of foods, or timing of eating that made you feel uncomfortable.
Once you have identified your problem area(s), you can modify your behaviors to avoid those foods and behaviors that are hurting you.
Below are other helpful changes commonly used to ease bloating, gas and flatulence.
- Eat fresh fruit and vegetables. They are high in fiber and ease constipation.
- Drink 1/2 your body weight in ouncesof clear fluids daily. This helps flush your system, add moisture to your colon and keep things moving through your digestive system.
- Avoid soft drinks and carbonated beverages. The carbon dioxide can become trapped in your stomach, causing bloating.
- Eat natural fresh foods. Packaged foods contain more preservatives and are harder to digest.
- Read labels and avoid high-sodium foods. Sodium dehydrates and limits your water intake.
- Eat dairy in moderation. If lactose intolerance is a problem, this will ease digestion of those products. Look for lactose-free products.
- Avoid foods that are too cold or too hot. They increase your air intake during a meal.
- Avoid caffeine. It acts as a stimulate and can overexcite your digestive system.
- Avoid high-fat foods. They are hard to digest and can cause digestive spasms.
- Exercise. Movement, especially in the morning before breakfast, encourages bowel activity
- Women should take PMS supplementation—to help ease premenstrual bloating.
- Gradually increase fiber to 25-30 grams per day. Fiber helps multiple digestive ailments, including bloating and gas.
- Consider preventative care such as seasonal colon cleansing.
Implement these changes gradually, tackling only one or two at a time. Studies show people can modify their behavior most easily by making gradual changes and focusing on a limited number of goals at one time. Keep track of your progress. Success begets success. This, too, will motivate you to change and improve your life.