General health

Bloating – could it be serious?

We all know that feeling – a painful, stretched, bloated stomach, which might be accompanied by excess gas, constipation, diarrhoea or cramps.

However, for some people, bloating is more than an occasional irritation. So, is it serious and is there anything you can do about it?

Check your lifestyle habits

If you suffer from regular bloating and excess wind, the first step is to identify if it is caused by your diet or lifestyle.

Too much red meat, alcohol, sugar, fizzy drinks, processed food and caffeine can all cause bloating, constipation and wind. Cutting down on these may help.

Some vegetables can make bloating worse.Try reducing the amount of beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions and sprouts you eat.

However, a varied diet with fresh fruit and vegetables is really important. You should eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and vegetables a day. The fibre they contain can help to reduce constipation, which can cause bloating; so there is a balance to be struck.

Take your time when you are eating. Slowing down the speed you eat at and chewing your food more can mean you swallow less air, aiding in reducing bloating.

Similarly, chewing gum, or talking while eating, can cause you to swallow air leading to symptoms of bloating.

Getting your bowel moving through exercise can aid in digestion. This doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. A brisk walk 4-5 times a week for up to half an hour can help bowel movement.

Still suffering?

If you have tried a number of these tips to reduce bloating and are still suffering, you may have intolerances to some foods. This is often wheat, gluten or dairy products. Try reducing the amount of these products you consumer over time, and keep a food diary to see how this affects your bloating; or talk to a dietician for more advice.

People who suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) can also suffer with bloating, often linked to intolerances to certain foods which causes erratic bowel movement and can lead to excess wind. However this condition also causes stomach pain or cramps, diarrhoea, and constipation. If you think you may have IBS you should talk to your doctor.

Could it be cancer?

Bloating is a very common symptom and is only rarely linked to cancer. However, long-term bloating and abdominal pain, especially if they persist, could be a symptom of bowel or ovarian cancer.

A change in toilet habits and blood in the stools are also symptoms of bowel cancer.

Your pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter remedies to help with bloating, constipation, diarrhoea and excess wind. For more serious underlying conditions that can cause bloating, such as Crohn’s disease, your GP may prescribe medications, depending on the diagnosis.

If you have been feeling bloated for most days in the past month and other interventions, such as exercise, keeping hydrated and eating well, haven’t worked, and especially if you have experienced other symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhoea, constipation, or unexplained weight loss, see your GP.

For more help and support, visit the NHS website

Dr. Phelan By Dr. Phelan General Practitioner Published 13/03/2019