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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Bloating is the feeling that happens when your tummy feels full, stretched and uncomfortable. Some describe it as feeling like there is a lot of gas or air in the tummy which may look bigger or swollen up as a result. Most of us have experienced bloating at some point in our lives, often as a reaction to something we’ve eaten or drunk. Bloating can also be a symptom associated with women's menstrual cycle, although it can occur in both adults and children of either gender. 

What causes bloating?

In most cases, bloating is no cause for concern and is typically due to your gut getting full of gas after eating or drinking, especially if you’ve eaten too quickly or had fizzy drinks. Constipation and acid reflux can also often cause bloating as can being intolerant to something in your diet, or with conditions like celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

It can also sometimes be a side effect of medication you’re taking, so it’s worth discussing this with your doctor or pharmacist.

A less common but serious cause of bloating and fullness sensation in women is ovarian cancer, and this type of bloating is usually permanent rather than coming and going which is the typical pattern.

What types of foods can lead to bloating?

Foods likely to cause bloating include dairy and gluten (wheat, barley, rye). Beans, carbonated drinks, lentils, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and onions can sometimes also be to blame. 

How can I get myself better?

The management of bloating very much depends on the cause. If it’s caused by a food intolerance, keep a symptom diary for a few weeks to identify the offending foods and the symptoms you experience with them. Foods such as dairy, wheat and gluten are commonly linked and may be causing lactose intolerance or symptoms of celiac disease. Celiac disease is where your digestive system cannot digest gluten. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye. You’re likely to have other symptoms such as tummy pain, changes to your bowel habits and tiredness with this. A gluten-free diet is the most effective way to manage symptoms of celiac disease.

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common digestive condition with an unknown cause and is a diagnosis of exclusion, which means other problems need to be ruled out first before this diagnosis can be made. Treatment options aim to relieve symptoms, and these can start small, so aim to avoid common dietary causes of symptoms for you, and if necessary, use some over-the-counter products proven to help with digestive symptoms such as bloating to bring you some relief.

When should I see my doctor?

If your bloating symptoms persist and are causing you concern, speak to your doctor to rule out any of the more significant causes. If bloating is associated with any severe symptoms such as weight loss, a permanently swollen tummy, feelings of fullness, fevers, persistent tiredness, vomiting or an unexplained poor appetite, then speak to your doctor urgently.

Related topics

Read more about: IBS

Read more about: Flatulence

Read more about: Food intolerance

Read more about: Premenstrual syndrome and period pain

Read more about: Celiac disease

Read more about: Gastritis

Read more about: Indigestion

Read more about: Ovarian cyst

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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