Why Do I Feel Gassy?
Disponible en Español |
You’re not alone. That overfull feeling that settles in your belly when you’re constipated, eaten too much or indulged in certain foods — well, it’s a lot more common than you think. In fact, experts say that as many as 30% of the U.S. population is affected by abdominal bloating.
And in a recent study that examined data for almost 89,000 participants, researchers found that 13.9% reported bloating within the past week alone.
Morgan Sendzischew Shane, M.D., a gastroenterologist at the University of Miami Health System, thinks those numbers may be on the low side. Nevertheless, quantifying the problem is no easy matter because individuals define bloating differently.
“It’s hard to make a blanket statement about bloating because how people feel it can be so different, and the causes are often multifactorial, which is what can make it hard to treat,” she explains.
In short, bloating can be annoying in mild cases, but it also can feel excruciating in the worst cases.
What causes bloating or gassiness?
Bloating, which happens when your GI tract fills with air or gas, can be triggered by many factors.
Certain underlying conditions, such as celiac disease and irritable bowel syndrome, can lead to that feeling of pressure and tightness. Lactose, the carbohydrate in milk and milk products, is a common culprit because upward of 70% of the world population lacks enough enzyme (lactase) to digest it.
As a result, some tasty dishes are culprits due to hidden lactose in butter, cheese, sour cream, etc.
“Just because you can’t see the dairy doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Dr. Shane explains. “It is not just the one food or trigger that causes the symptom. We can all tolerate some lactose. But in the aggregate, those with lower levels of an enzyme have more symptoms when lactose is consumed at multiple meals.”
Why do beans give you gas?
Other common foods can lead to symptoms, too. Beans, for instance, are notorious for their gas-producing prowess. Add Brussels sprouts, cabbage, broccoli, artichokes, and other vegetables to that list. Why?
“These foods contain certain types of fiber that, for some, can be difficult to digest. On top of that, the bacteria that naturally live in our gut can start to ferment this undigested fiber — and produce gas,” Dr. Shane explains.
In most cases, bloating resolves with time, and we usually feel relieved when we pass gas. Though fodder for silly jokes, such situations are relatively harmless.
Or as Dr. Shane puts it: “No one dies of bloating. It’s more a quality of life issue.”
The easiest first step is to take a good look at your diet to try to identify any triggers. Everybody is not the same, so generalized recommendations can be tricky, but some common things are, in fact, common.
How do you prevent bloating?
There are plenty of ways to prevent abdominal bloating:
– Limit foods known to cause gas, such as beans, lentils, and vegetables in the cabbage family, and see if your symptoms improve.
– Avoid habits that lead to swallowing air, such as eating too fast, drinking through a straw, or chewing gum.
– Cut down on soft drinks and carbonated beverages.
– Drink plenty of water. – Eat enough fiber. If you’re increasing the amount, do so thoughtfully to avoid … well, more gas.
– Exercise. It often helps people poop better.
– Try herbal teas, such as chamomile, ginger, peppermint, turmeric, and fennel, to aid digestion and help you process gas better. Antacids also help digestion.
– Keep a food diary for two weeks, jotting down not just what you eat but also where and how much. “Preservatives in packaged foods make the breakdown of those foods harder on the system,” says Dr. Shane.
Of course, not all cases of abdominal bloating are easily addressed with dietary and lifestyle modifications. In some cases, that painful pressure is a sign of a serious medical condition.
“When bloating is persistent or associated with other symptoms, it should be addressed with your medical professionals,” Dr. Shane says.
Can frequent gassiness be a sign of other health issues?
Persistent abdominal bloating may be a sign of undiagnosed celiac disease, digestive enzyme deficiencies, or an imbalance in the normal gut bacteria called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
Unfortunately, researchers have found that many who suffer from symptoms don’t seek medical help. In the recent large-scale study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatologyopens, 58.5% never sought care. While some said the bloating eventually went away, others cited not having insurance or time to speak to their doctors as reasons.
You should seek medical care, Dr. Shane adds, when bloating is accompanied by diarrhea, vomiting, or unexplained weight loss. Your primary care doctor or GI specialist will likely suggest bloodwork and consider additional testing to help determine the cause.
“Bloating is uncomfortable because what your intestines are feeling is associated with the pressure on the gut wall,” she says. “But more often than not, we can find the root cause and get it resolved.”
That said, not everyone is willing to stop the behavior or quit the food that causes such distress. “There is comfort in knowing that you don’t have something tragic,” she adds.
“Once we have identified the cause, if it is dietary, then you get to decide. Sometimes we don’t want to stop eating foods that make us happy. In the end, you have to ask if you’re willing to tolerate the consequences of the dietary choices you make.”
Ana Veciana-Suarez is a regular contributor to the University of Miami Health System. She is a renowned journalist and author who has worked at The Miami Herald, The Miami News, and The Palm Beach Post. Visit her website at anavecianasuarez.com or follow @AnaVeciana on Twitter.