Bloating: Common but incompletely understood

Bloating is a sensation of abdominal fullness. Distension is a visible or measurable increase in abdominal size. People often describe abdominal symptoms as bloating, especially if those symptoms don't seem to be relieved by belching, passing gas or having a bowel movement.

The exact connection between intestinal gas and bloating is not fully understood. Many people with bloating symptoms don't have any more gas in the intestine than do other people. Many people, particularly those with irritable bowel syndrome or anxiety, may have a greater sensitivity to abdominal symptoms and intestinal gas, rather than an excess amount.

Nonetheless, bloating may be relieved by the behavioral changes that reduce belching, or the dietary changes that reduce flatus.

When to see your doctor

Excessive belching, passing gas and bloating often resolve on their own or with simple changes. If these are the only symptoms you have, they rarely represent any serious underlying condition.

Consult your doctor if your symptoms don't improve with simple changes, particularly if you also notice:

  • Diarrhea
  • Persistent or severe abdominal pain
  • Bloody stools
  • Changes in the color or frequency of stools
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Chest discomfort
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly

These signs and symptoms could signal an underlying digestive condition. Intestinal symptoms can be embarrassing — but don't let embarrassment keep you from seeking help.

June 08, 2017