Abdominal Bloating or Swelling: Causes & Remedies

By Terez Malka, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
May 7, 2020

Have you ever experienced a bloated stomach? You’re definitely not alone. Up to 30% of people report they’ve experienced abdominal swelling, also known as bloating.

Bloating is a full, tight feeling you get in your stomach. If your stomach feels—and looks—swollen and full, then there’s a chance you are experiencing abdominal bloating. Commonly accompanied by gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms like stomach pain, gas, belching, or heartburn, abdominal bloating can be uncomfortable. But in most cases, bloating isn’t caused by a serious medical condition and does not cause long-term effects.

Bloating can happen to anyone, adult or child, and it’s commonly brought on by lifestyle factors like foods, drinks, or swallowing too much air. Certain medical conditions like reflux (GERD), hormonal shifts, and irritable bowel syndrome can also cause abdominal bloating. In rare cases, prolonged bloating can be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition.

If you’re concerned, or your bloating is causing significant discomfort, consult with your doctor, who can help you pinpoint the cause and identity treatments that will work for you. In many cases, simple lifestyle changes or at-home treatments are all that are needed, but your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medicine, depending on what’s going on.

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What Is Bloating?

Abdominal bloating occurs when the abdomen is distended or swollen, most commonly due to a buildup of air or gas inside the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. If you’re experiencing abdominal bloating, you may also have gas (flatulence or farting), excessive burping or belching, or a general feeling of fullness in your stomach area. Many people complain of a feeling of tightness or pressure as well, and this may radiate to the chest or the groin.

One cause of bloating is gas buildup in the digestive tract due to undigested food getting broken down. If the stomach doesn’t empty quickly, gas can accumulate, leading to swelling and a feeling of fullness in the abdomen.

While simply eating too much can lead a person to feel bloated, certain foods and drinks are commonly associated with gas and bloating, including:

  • Carbonated drinks
  • Beans
  • Cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and broccoli
  • High-fiber breads and cereals
  • Dairy products
  • Prunes or prune juice
  • Fried or spicy food
  • FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), which are molecules found in some difficult-to-digest foods such as garlic and onion
  • Foods with excess salt
  • Fatty foods

Swallowing air, which happens to everyone, can also cause gas and bloating. Some of the most common ways people swallow air are:

  • Eating or drinking too quickly
  • Sucking on hard candy
  • Smoking
  • Chewing gum
  • Drinking through a straw
  • Wearing loose dentures

There are also some medical conditions that may cause bloating, such as:

In most of these conditions, bloating is a symptom that resolves on its own or with treatment. But sometimes, abdominal bloating that severely worsens over time can signal something more serious, including:

  • Accumulation in the fluid in the abdominal cavity: due to liver disease, kidney failure, heart failure, or some cancers (most commonly, stomach, pancreatic, or ovarian cancers)
  • Celiac disease (gluten intolerance): an autoimmune disease in which eating gluten creates inflammation that damages a person’s small intestine
  • Perforation of the GI tract: which can cause gas and gut bacteria to escape to the abdominal cavity
  • Pancreatic insufficiency: in which the pancreas can’t produce digestive enzymes, leading to digestive issues

If you have bloating that worsens over time or causes you severe discomfort, it’s always a good idea to speak with your physician or contact a K doctor, who can help you find ways to manage your bloating and rule out chronic conditions.

How Do I Know If I’m Bloated?

The “bloated belly” feeling is the first sign you’re experiencing a swollen abdomen. If you are bloated, you will likely notice swelling in your abdominal area, causing it to feel and visibly appear full. Bloating sometimes comes with other symptoms, including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Excessive flatulence (passing gas)
  • Excessive burping or belching
  • Abdominal gurgling or rumbling
  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite

How to Get Rid of Bloating

How to get rid of bloating depends on what’s causing your bloating. Abdominal swelling or stomach bloating associated with foods, medications, or supplements may go away if you eliminate those things.

You can also try natural remedies for bloating at home, such as probiotics and herbs:

  • Probiotics: Probiotics help to balance out gut bacteria, which may improve or prevent bloating. You can take probiotics caplets or eat yogurt or kefir, which naturally contains probiotics. Fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kombucha also contain natural probiotics.
  • Herbal tea: Drinking herbal tea might also help with bloating. Herbs such as peppermint, chamomile, cloves, anise, fennel, turmeric, and caraway, which are commonly found in teas, can help with the uncomfortable symptoms of gas or bloating.
  • Apple cider vinegar: For bloating associated with gas, you can also try diluting a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar in water, and drinking right before meals. Apple cider vinegar can help your body produce stomach acid and digestive enzymes, which can alleviate and prevent gas pain.

If bloating continues to bother you, your doctor may recommend an over-the-counter medication to manage symptoms, including:

  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol): which works by protecting your stomach from stomach acid that can cause gas.
  • Simethicone (Gas-X, Mylanta Gas, or Phazyme): which consolidates gas bubbles in your stomach so your body can expel them.
  • Digestive enzymes: which help break down foods, such as Lactaid for lactose or Beano for complex carbohydrates.

If you’re trying to alleviate bloating, be aware that fiber supplements may make the problem worse.

Bloating due to underlying medical causes may be treated with:

  • Antibiotics or antiparasitics: if your bloating is found to be due to an infection. This typically requires diagnosis by examining your stool. Most of these illnesses are associated with diarrhea as well.
  • Antidepressants: if stress, anxiety, or depression are contributing to your bloating, or in some cases of irritable bowel syndrome.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: Elavil (amitriptyline) in low doses can modulate how nerves react and in turn reduce bloating.
  • Antispasmodics: Prescription medications which can prevent spasms in the GI tract and help with cramping and discomfort.

How to Prevent Bloating and Abdominal Swelling

To prevent bloating from occurring, certain lifestyle modifications may help.

If you suspect a food or drink might be exacerbating your bloating—this may be the case if you experience bloating after eating—keep a food diary to try to identify and avoid the foods that trigger you. Some people find a FODMAP-free diet helpful. You can find a list of FODMAP foods via a google search.

Try taking a walk after you eat to promote digestion. A regular exercise routine may also help with abdominal bloating: Exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the digestive system. Indirectly, exercise can also help maintain a healthy weight, if weight gain or obesity are the cause of bloating.

You can also reduce the likelihood of bloating by trying not to swallow too much air. Avoid behaviors like:

  • Chewing gum
  • Sucking on hard candy
  • Drinking anything carbonated
  • Drinking with straws
  • Smoking
  • Eating and drinking quickly
  • Drinking fluids during a meal—instead, try to drink between meals

Some people also tend to swallow more air when they are nervous due to shallow breathing. If you have anxiety or experience regular stress, work on relaxation techniques like breathing exercises, mindfulness, or meditation. It may also help to talk to a psychotherapist.

When to See a Doctor

If bloating is bothering you, then you have a reason to reach out to your doctor, who can help you determine an appropriate solution for how to get rid of bloating or how to reduce bloating.

Since bloating, in rare cases, can indicate an underlying medical condition, consult with your provider or a K doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

If you experience severe abdominal pain or any kind of chest pain, which could be a sign of a serious condition like appendicitis, an infection, or a heart attack, seek medical care immediately.

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How K Health Can Help

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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.

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