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Bloating: causes, testing and natural treatments

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Bloating and distension are prevalent issues, reported by approximately 20 to 30% of the general population. In patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), the occurrence rate can rise as high as 96 percent.

What is bloating?

Bloating refers to the feeling of abdominal fullness, pressure, or trapped gas, while distension refers to a measurable increase in abdominal girth. It can be described as a "balloon" sensation in the abdomen or feeling six months pregnant.

Bloating is often accompanied by other symptoms, including discomfort or pain, diarrhea or constipation, excess gas, and even nausea. Understanding these additional symptoms can provide important clues to the underlying cause.

Bloating vs. Edema or Water Retention:

Edema, or water retention, is the accumulation of extra fluid in tissues, leading to a more widespread swelling, such as in the hands, fingers, feet, or face. In contrast, bloating primarily affects the abdomen, causing a sensation of fullness and tightness, often due to the build-up of gas.

How to tell if bloating is coming from the gastrointestinal tract?

GI bloating is characterized by certain patterns and responses. Bloating that worsens throughout the day, improves after a bowel movement, and is absent upon waking with a flat stomach is more likely to be GI-related. On the other hand, water retention that occurs predominantly before the menstrual cycle is likely due to hormonal fluctuations.

Is some degree of bloating normal!?

YES! Experiencing some degree of bloating after meals is entirely normal. When we eat, our bodies break down food, leading to temporary bloating that typically resolves within a few hours. However, if bloating becomes persistent, affects daily activities, or causes extreme discomfort, further investigation may be necessary.

Causes of Bloating:

Several factors contribute to bloating, including infections such as small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), malabsorption (lactose intolerance, fructose intolerance, or celiac disease) or parasites (giardia). Dietary factors like intolerance to FODMAPs, and consuming gas-producing foods or even swallowing air during meals can lead to bloating. Conditions like pancreatic insufficiency, IBS, functional dyspepsia, constipation, and even malignancies (GI and ovarian) can be underlying causes.

Testing and Workup:

To identify the cause of bloating, several tests may be recommended. These can include CBC, CMP, amylase/lipase, inflammatory markers, nutrient evaluation, stool testing, thyroid and hormone testing, lactulose breath test, lactose intolerance testing, and imaging studies based on specific symptoms.

Natural treatments for bloating:

The treatment approach for bloating depends on the underlying cause identified through testing. It may involve eradicating bacteria with antibiotics or herbal antimicrobials for SIBO, addressing stress and visceral hypersensitivity through gut-brain connection techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy, treating low thyroid levels, and implementing an elimination diet if certain foods are correlated with bloating.

These guidelines include eating three meals a day without snacking, chewing food slowly, avoiding fluids with meals, limiting raw vegetables and carbonated beverages, engaging in regular movement, and utilizing ginger or peppermint for temporary relief.

Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for bloating is crucial in managing this common digestive issue. By identifying the underlying factors and adopting appropriate strategies, individuals can find relief and improve their overall well-being. Consult with a modrn med doctor for personalized guidance.

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