What Is Bloating?
Bloating or abdominal bloating happens when gas or air builds up within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Individuals may experience bloating differently. While some may experience a feeling of tightness or swelling in the abdomen, others may experience bloating where excessive gas has built up in the intestine (flatulence), leading to frequent passing of gas.
You may be experiencing bloating if your abdomen feels hard and painful, and you feel compelled to burp or experience the urge to pass gas. As bloating is common amongst adults and children, it may often be written off as something minor. However, frequent bloating can be a sign of digestive problems related to one’s digestive tract.
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What Causes Bloating?
Bloating is usually experienced when undigested food is broken down in the digestive tract causing gas to build up in the body. Another cause of gas build-up in the body happens when you are eating or drinking, especially if you are consuming food quickly.
As gas builds up in the body, burping and flatulence (passing of gas) are ways in which air can leave the body. If the gas accumulates past a certain point, an individual will then experience bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Bloating may also be a sign of digestive problems such as food or medicinal intolerance, heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or inflammatory bowel disease. In other cases, bloating may also be a sign of an intestinal virus, bacterial or parasitic infection.
In rare cases, bloating could indicate a sign of obstruction in the intestine, such as colorectal cancers or the possibility of a perforation (tear) along the gastrointestinal tract, leading to the escape of gas into the abdominal cavity.
When Is It Necessary to Consult a Doctor for Bloating?
Most abdominal bloating may go away without treatment or medication. However, persistent bloating coupled with recurrent or severe pain in the abdominal region may indicate that you should seek prompt medical attention.
You are advised to seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Blood in stools
- Fever of more than 38.5 degrees
- Coughing of blood
- Persistent nausea or vomiting
- Swelling or severe tenderness of the abdominal region
How Are the Causes of Bloating Diagnosed?
When it comes to detecting the cause of bloating, our doctor may recommend a series of tests to diagnose your condition accurately.
Firstly, if you are experiencing abdominal pain and bloating, our doctor may conduct a physical examination to determine the region of the pain. This may include applying gentle pressure to the various areas of the abdomen to localise the pain region and check for tenderness and swelling.
Following the examination, our doctor may recommend further investigations be performed. These may include an upper-GI gastroscopy or a colonoscopy.
A gastroscopy is an investigation of the oesophagus and stomach, beginning at the mouth and ending at the small intestine. This uses a tiny camera mounted at the end of a thin, flexible tube.
It makes detection of conditions associated with stomach cancer easier, such as inflammation and ulcers, as well as bacteria that increase the risk of stomach cancer. Our doctor will also be able to detect various signs of abnormalities that could be causing the bloating.
A colonoscopy investigates the large intestine together with the rectum and anus.
As bloating may also be caused by abnormalities in the colon tract, our doctor may also suggest a colonoscopy to detect abnormalities in your large intestine. Samples of the large intestine can be taken for tests if there are any growths or unusual findings.
Samples such as blood or stool may also be taken to investigate possible signs of bacterial, parasitic, or viral infections.
How Can Bloating Be Prevented?
In most cases, bloating may be prevented through a combination of lifestyle and dietary changes.
To prevent gas build-up, you are advised to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. This prevents you from swallowing excessive amounts of air, which may lead to bloating.
Avoiding particular foods and beverages that may cause gas build-up can also be a way of preventing bloating. Such foods may include:
- Carbonated beverages
- Vegetables such as cabbage, lentils and dried beans
- Dairy Products (if you are lactose intolerant)
In some instances, consuming probiotics has also helped prevent bloating. Probiotics help create a healthy gut microbiome that helps balance the healthy bacteria that can be found in your body, aiding in digestion.
Since the effects of different strains of probiotics may vary for individuals, you are advised to seek a doctor’s advice when it comes to finding the right strain of probiotic for you.
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