Stomach bloats after eating

What is bloating?

Bloating can be described as the feeling that there is an inflated balloon in the abdomen. It is a commonly reported symptom and is sometimes associated with distension, or the visible increase in the width of the area between your hips and chest (abdominal girth).

Both bloating and distension cause discomfort, and sometimes pain, and have a negative impact on the quality of life for some individuals. The symptoms may be linked with other gas related complaints, such as burping or belching (eructation), swallowing air (aerophagia), and passing intestinal gas (flatulence).

Learn more about controlling intestinal gas

Frequency of reporting of abdominal bloating in individuals with FGIDs
– IBS: 23%-96%
– Functional dyspepsia: 50%
– Chronic constipation: 56%

Some people with functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) and motility disorders frequently experience bloating, distension, or both as symptoms of their conditions. There is also something called functional bloating, which is fullness and or/distension of the abdomen, not associated with changes in bowel movements.

Causes

While researchers have proposed several different explanations for bloating and distension, there is no conclusive answer as to why the two symptoms occur.

Possible reasons for bloating and distension include:

  • Too much gas in the intestine
  • Abnormal levels of bacteria in the small intestine (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth – SIBO)
  • Imbalance of microorganisms that usually live in the bowel (dysbacteriosis); sometimes the result of taking antibiotics
  • Food intolerance
  • Increased perception and sensitivity to what is happening in the digestive tract
  • Increased curvature of the lumbar region of the spine (lumbar lordosis), which decreases the capacity of the abdomen to hold gas

These tests include:

  • Stool analysis
  • Blood workup
  • Abdominal x-rays
  • Barium swallow
  • Small transit follow through
  • Barium enema
  • Gastric emptying tests
  • Esophageal, antroduodenal, or anorectal manometry
  • Colonic transit studies
  • Breath test
  • Upper endoscopy
  • Colonoscopy with biopsies

Learn how to prepare for tests

Individuals can help their physicians by describing their complaints as accurately and concisely as possible. With regard to bloating and distension, here are some important questions to ask and details to tell your health care provider (keeping track of the things that trigger your symptoms is a good way to discover the answers):

Did you know that Spanish and some other languages don’t have a word for “bloating”? People use the words “swelling” and “inflammation,” or describe it as “feeling pregnant.” Using the balloon analogy can be the most helpful. Let your doctor know exactly whether you have the sensation of having a balloon in your abdomen (bloating), the truly visible increase in your abdominal girth (distension), or both.

Things to Ask your Doctor:

  • Am I bloated?
  • Am I distended?
  • Am I both bloated and distended?

Things to Tell your Doctor:

  • Is the symptom located in the upper or lower abdomen?
    Is it in a concentrated area?
  • Is your bloating or distension associated with burping?
  • Do you experience nausea or vomiting?
  • Is the symptom associated with pain in your abdomen?
    Upper or lower?
  • Does the bloating or distension relate to passing gas or a change in your bowel habits (diarrhea, constipation, or alternation of both)?
  • Are your symptoms related to food? Which ones?
  • Do they occur right after eating?
  • Do your symptoms increase during the day or improve during night hours?

Medications and other therapies

Some medications and other treatments have been found to help ease the symptoms of bloating and distension. Your doctor may talk to you about some of these options, depending on your symptoms and other health related considerations.

Antispasmodics: These can relax the muscles of the bowel and provide relief. Examples include dicyclomine (Bentyl) and hyoscyamine (Levsin) in the United States and otilonium bromide or pinaverium bromide available in Latin America and some countries in Europe and Asia and a combination of pinaverium bromide with simethicone (Alevian Duo) in some Latin America countries.

Learn more about antispasmodics

Probiotics: These dietary supplements contain live bacteria that help balance out the existing bacteria of the intestines. Some that include a relatively low level of probiotic bacteria are available over the counter or in yogurt varieties. Other options include Bifidobacterium infantis 35624 for individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in general, and Bifidobacterium animalis DN-0173 10 for patients with IBS with constipation (IBS-C).

Learn more about probiotics

Rifaximin: This antibiotic is only slightly absorbed and can be used for short periods of time. Usually it is used (off-label) to lessen bloating in people with IBS whose symptoms do not include constipation, or in those with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.

Prokinetics: These are medications that improve the time it takes for food to travel through the digestive tract. Some prokinetics have been shown to improve bloating. A person’s age, health and other considerations must be taken into account for these therapies and availabilities vary from country to country.

Learn more about prokinetics (also called promotility agents)

Antidepressants: These drugs affect receptors in the gut and in the brain. Given in lower dosages than what is used to treat depression, they have been shown to help alleviate bloating and distension. For example, citalopram (Celexa), an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor), has been shown to help improve bloating in individuals with IBS. Amitryptiline (Elavil), a tricyclic antidepressant, is commonly used to treat pain and discomfort, as well as diarrhea, and may be helpful for bloating.

Other options: Medications that increase fluid content in stools, lubiprostone (Amitiza) or linaclotide (Linzess) for example, may also be used.

Psychological therapies: Treatments including hypnotherapy and cognitive-behavioral therapy can be useful and help with symptoms and mood.

Low FODMAP diet: Working with a doctor or registered dietitian to determine a diet low in FODMAPs is an option for alleviating bloating and distension symptoms. FODMAPs are shortchain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and rapidly fermented by bacteria in the gut.

Foods that are rich in FODMAPs include:

  • Fruits such as mangoes, apples, pears, avocados, blackberries, and plums
  • Dairy products like cow, sheep, and goat milk, as well as yogurt, ice cream, and soft cheeses including cottage cheese, cream cheese and mascarpone
  • Honey
  • Vegetables and legumes such as asparagus, bell peppers, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, eggplant, onion, garlic, baked beans, kidney beans, and lentils
  • Sweeteners like sorbitol and maltitol (frequently used in gum and other candies)

Learn more about the low FODMAP diet

Conclusion

Bloating and distension are both very common, for the general population and for those with FGIDs and motility disorders. Either of the two may be very bothersome to individuals that are experiencing the symptoms, as well as challenging to those trying to treat them. There is not a conclusive cause for bloating or distension, nor is there a universally effective treatment. With the help of a physician, individuals can find different treatment options that may help alleviate their symptoms.

For specific guidance regarding personal health questions, we advise consultation with a qualified healthcare professional familiar with your particular circumstances. Be sure to thoroughly discuss treatment options and the use of any medications for treatment with your physician. When prescribed a medication, disclose the use of all other drugs or supplements (whether prescription or over-the-counter) with your physician.

Did This Article Help You?

IFFGD is a nonprofit education and research organization. Our mission is to inform, assist, and support people affected by gastrointestinal disorders.

Our original content is authored specifically for IFFGD readers, in response to your questions and concerns.

If you found this article helpful, please consider supporting IFFGD with a small tax-deductible donation.

Adapted from IFFGD publication #262 by Max Schmulson, MD, Professor of Medicine, National Autonomous University of Mexico-UNAM, Mexico City, Mexico, Published in Digestive Health Matters Vol. 22 No. 1

What’s Causing My Abdominal Bloating and Abdominal Pain?

Pain in different areas of the abdomen can mean different things.

Abdominal pain can be anywhere between the chest and the pelvis. People often call it a stomachache. The pain can also be:

  • cramp-like
  • achy
  • dull
  • sharp

Causes of abdominal bloating and pain can vary from mild to severe. Most of the time, abdominal bloating and pain occur due to:

  • overeating
  • gas
  • stress
  • indigestion

This kind of bloating or pain is usually normal and will go away within two hours.

In cases of the stomach flu, you may feel intense pain or bloating that comes and goes before each episode of vomiting or diarrhea. Stomach viruses usually go away with rest and home care.

This guide lists the organs associated with different locations of abdominal bloating or pain:

Left side of the abdomen

Upper left:

This part of the abdomen contains a portion of the body of your stomach, the tail of the pancreas, and your spleen.

The spleen is an organ that filters blood and supports the immune system.

Center left and center middle:

The transverse colon and the small intestine make up the center left and center middle of the abdomen. The small intestine is where most food digestion occurs.

The transverse colon is the upper part of the large intestine, where unabsorbed food is carried after going through the ascending colon. The small intestine is the organ that takes up most of the abdomen.

Lower left:

The descending and sigmoid colon portions are the part of the digestive system that stores unabsorbed food remains and waste before they leave your body.

Middle of the abdomen

Upper middle:

The upper middle part of the abdomen contains the liver, the cardiac region of the stomach, part of the body of the stomach, the pyloric region of the stomach, and the pancreas.

The liver filters blood and creates bile, which is a substance that helps in the breakdown and absorption of fat in the foods you eat.

The cardiac region of the stomach is where food enters from the esophagus.

The pyloric region of the stomach is the last part of the stomach before food enters into the duodenum of the small intestine.

The pancreas is a large glandular organ that releases digestive enzymes and hormones.

Lower middle:

The lower middle part of the abdomen contains the urinary bladder, rectum, and anus.

The urinary bladder is the organ that collects urine for excretion out of the body through the urethra.

The rectum goes into the anus, the final section of the large intestine that carries stool for excretion from the body.

Right side of the abdomen

Upper right:

The upper right side of your abdomen contains the gallbladder, liver, and first part of the small intestine.

The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile made by the liver. The duodenum, known as the first portion of the small intestine, is where food empties from the stomach into the small intestine.

Center right:

The center right side of the abdomen contains the ascending colon and the transverse colon. Food then passes from the ascending colon to the transverse colon.

Lower right:

The cecum of the large intestine with the appendix and the small intestine are in the lower right side of the abdomen. The cecum is the first part of the large intestine that the end of the small intestine connects to.

Some experts believe the appendix plays a role in the immune system. Others think it has no purpose.

What’s Going On With Bloating After Eating And Gas After Every Meal?

☝️Does rice expand in your stomach? ☝️ No. If you cook your rice before eating it, it should be soft and chewy because it has absorbed all the moisture it can.

Dysbiosis

The colon is home to trillions of bacterial cells which make up the gut microbiome. These bacteria perform important tasks like breaking down fibre, producing beneficial metabolites like vitamins and short-chain fatty acids, as well as supporting your immune system.

When the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut is out of sync, it affects your gut. Known as dysbiosis, many things can negatively impact the composition of your gut microbiome, including antibiotic use, lack of physical activity, and poor diet.

Indeed, consuming high amounts of refined sugar and processed foods are not only bad for your overall health, but it limits the diversity of your gut microbiota while also encouraging the growth of bacteria that can make you gassy, leading to bloating, flatulence, and cramping.

Medical conditions

If you’re wondering what causes bloating after eating, there are some medical reasons too. Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) happens when there is excessive growth of bacteria in the small intestine. It can cause gas and bloating after eating, abdominal discomfort, and fatigue.

Some medical conditions can cause bloatedness and gas

IBS is a chronic condition affecting the large intestine, but the exact cause of the illness is unknown. Abdominal pain is the most common complaint, followed by bloating. In one American study, over three quarters (76%) of IBS patients complained of bloating symptoms.

Leaky gut

Leaky gut syndrome is an internet phenomenon that is not recognised as a medical condition by doctors. However, that’s not to say that excess leakiness doesn’t exist. In fact, gut bacteria actually play an important role in keeping your intestinal lining healthy.

When your gut lining is working properly, the barrier allows essential nutrients you need to pass through it and enter your bloodstream, and it stops larger molecules and opportunistic pathogens getting in.

However, if this barrier is weakened by a medical condition, poor diet, or dysbiosis, it can be described as leaky, resulting in inflammation and causing symptoms including bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhoea, and constipation.

Diet makes you gassy after eating

Feeling bloated after eating can be caused by certain foods for some people. Foods rich in fibre like whole grains, legumes, and some vegetables – although healthy – can lead to bloated bellies.

Some people are more sensitive to specific dietary fibers

Although your gut bacteria are well equipped to break down the fibre in your diet to beneficial metabolites, the process can also lead to the production of gas. Suddenly increasing your fibre intake means you may also be greeted with some odoriferous flatulence, bloating, and some discomfort.

Salt, another major component of the Western diet, is a major contributor to bloating because it tells your body to hold onto water. Other things like taking in lots of air when you eat or drinking carbonated drinks increases the gas build-up in the body, making your belly feel like an inflated balloon.

Why do I bloat after eating?

If your stomach bloats after eating, identify your common bloating triggers so you can take steps to resolve the problem.

The first step to dealing with the issue of bloating is to establish the potential causes. And, it’s easier to do so than you might have imagined. Once you’ve found the source, you can begin to put an action plan in place and actively take steps to stop bloating and gas after eating.

Identify your common triggers

We are all unique, so what causes bloating in one person may not be the same in another. So, getting to know your body inside out is really important if you want to learn about what may be upsetting it and making you feel less human and more like a hot air balloon.

Common triggers of bloating:

  • stress
  • fizzy drinks
  • diet
  • lack of exercise
  • eating too quickly
  • dysbiosis
  • IBS
  • food intolerances

If you get gassy after eating anything, then you need to turn detective (think Sherlock Holmes), and a food diary is necessary. Simply make a note of everything you eat and drink alongside other important info like your exercise, medications, and how you feel after eating.

How to stop bloating after eating

If you’re looking for ways to stop the bloat after eating, check out these tips to stop that gas after every meal.

Get more fibre

The Western diet can be a major culprit in the belly bloat saga. Characterised by its high-fat and refined sugar content with little goodness from fibre, the Western lifestyle is not great for your health.

It takes longer for your body to process fat, which is why it can feel like your tummy is fit to burst after a large, fatty meal. Reducing your intake of processed, refined, and fried foods can help, and increasing your intake of fruit, veg, and whole grains if you’re not getting enough already can all help.

☝️TIP☝️Discover your personalised food recommendations to enhance your gut bacteria and add more fiber to your diet with the Atlas Microbiome Test .

Gentle exercise can speed up digestion

If you’re feeling up for it, take a gentle walk after eating to reduce bloating after meals. But bear in mind that gentle exercise is better than strenuous types, because intense physical activity shuts down your digestive activities and reroutes your energy towards the muscles.

Gentle exercise can help relieve bloating and gas

Eat less fiber

If you’re already eating lots of fibrous foods or are thinking of participating in Veganuary, or are freaked out thinking you don’t eat enough, chill. There’s no need to be a hero and go mad with your fibre intake. In fact, it could do you more harm than good!

Some foods, particularly whole grains, legumes, and beans, commonly cause bloating. You need fibre as part of a healthy diet, but you should gradually increase your fibre intake rather than in one go and monitor how your body responds.

Fermented foods can help

If the balance of gut microbes is a little messed up, increasing your probiotic intake could help to restore your microbiome back to equilibrium. Foods that decrease bloating might include fermented examples, like kefir and yogurt containing natural probiotics (a source of live, beneficial bacteria).

Some research has shown that Bifidobacterium infantis could be helpful for IBS patients. However, other studies have shown that some probiotics, like those containing Lactobacillus, can help with IBS symptoms, but don’t necessarily reduce bloating.

Slow down: eating’s not a race

Eating is a marathon, not a sprint. Inhaling your food is not good if you want to avoid bloating after lunch. That’s because when you gulp down your food, you’re also taking in lots of air, resulting in lots of gas after eating. It can also result in belching.

Adding probiotics to your diet can help with digestive discomfort

You can beat the bloat by eating slower and chewing your food. Not only will that reduce the air you’re taking in, but it can also help to make you feel fuller so you take in less unnecessary food. And that’s a win-win for your waistline.

Fizzy drinks expand your waistline

If you experience stomach bloating after eating very little, maybe it’s what you drink rather than what you eat. Fizzy or carbonated drinks cause carbon dioxide to build up in the body, inflating your stomach, resulting in gas immediately after eating.

The best drink to combat this is water. Just still water, not sparkling though. If, like many others, you’re not keen on the taste, try adding a little flavour like a slice of lemon or lime. These not only enhance the flavour of water, but won’t expand your tummy either.

Take it easy with the salt

Sodium is a major ingredient in the Western diet, and diets high in sodium are also known to cause bloating. Salt encourages the body to retain water, that’s why we feel thirsty after eating salty food. It can also alter the composition of the gut microbiome by decreasing the abundance of Lactobacillus, a probiotic bacterium.

The good news is reducing salt intake can relieve the symptoms of bloating, and it’s simple to do. Most sodium intake comes from processed foods and eating out, so try cooking at home and using herbs and spices to infuse your dishes with flavour.

Reduce stress at mealtimes

In many households, the pressure can be on during mealtimes. Whether it’s prepping, cooking, or just getting family members to eat, dinnertime can be hectic. If you’re stressed, the diversity of your gut microbiome can be affected and you may experience gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloating.

The low-FODMAP diet

Because food is often implicated as a trigger for gastrointestinal symptoms, a low FODMAP diet is sometimes used to control IBS effects. It stands for fermentable, oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols. These are the types of fermentable fibre which the body struggles to digest and cause discomfort when they are broken down by gut bacteria.

Beans are notorious for making people gassy

However, even though the internet is a powerful educational tool, you should consult a qualified health professional before embarking on a low-FODMAP diet, because changing your eating habits can affect your health, and even trigger disordered eating.

Unlike the internet, healthcare professionals use diagnostic tools to determine whether a low-FODMAP diet is suitable for you. The causes of digestive discomfort and complaints are complex, and you may require further tests to identify the cause of the issue.

The stages of a low-FODMAP diet

Stage What happens?
Restriction Remove all FODMAP foods for several weeks to clear your system.
Reintroduction One-by-one add high-FODMAP foods back into the diet, and monitor symptoms
Personalisation Adjust FODMAP based on symptoms recorded during the reintroduction period.

Take-aways: just remember this

Your body is unique and what causes you to bloat might not be the same as somebody else. If you want to beat the bloat, remember to:

  • Get a good amount of fibre in your diet, but don’t be a hero.
  • Switch fizzy drinks for still water flavoured with lemon juice.
  • Don’t get your gut in a twist, avoid stressful situations.
  • Get some probiotics in your diet with fermented food.
  • Manage your salt intake by cooking at home.
  • Slow down when you eat, there’s no need to rush.
  • Gentle exercise after meals can help with digestion.
  • If lifestyle changes don’t help, ask a health professional.

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