Abdominal Bloating: When to Worry
For some it's a matter of aesthetics and for others, it affects their quality of life. Let's see the causes of abdominal bloating and when it should be a concern.
Abdominal bloating is common. Its consequences aren’t usually serious, but it does affect quality of life quite significantly. In fact, more than half of those who suffer from it alter their routine.
But when should it be a concern? There are as many interpretations of the seriousness of abdominal bloating as there are sufferers. For some, it’s something temporary and unimportant, and for others, it’s a daily complication. In the following article, we’ll fill you in on the details.
Previous knowledge of the discomfort
Abdominal bloating, abdominal distension or belly bloating are terms that are often used interchangeably. However, they don’t mean the same thing.
Medicine distinguishes between bloating and distension. The former is the sensation a person has, the subjective feeling. On the other hand, abdominal distention is the objective perception of an increase in the size of the abdomen that can be verified in a physical examination.
We also want to make it clear that it’s not obesity or accumulation of fatty tissue in the belly. Abdominal bloating affects overweight and thin people alike.
According to data published in 2013 by the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, researchers estimate that up to one third of the population has had or has the symptom. The most affected are women, to a greater extent than men.
Causes of abdominal bloating
As Dr. Edith Pérez de Arce points out, perhaps the most frequent cause of abdominal bloating is excessive food. It’s a benign and temporary cause, without major complications.
However, there are also other causes of varying severity:
- Flatulence: due to the accumulation of intestinal gas with difficulty in expelling it.
- Irritable bowel syndrome: those who suffer from this issue suffer from a slowing of the intestinal process.
- Fluid in the abdominal cavity: this is a serious cause and, therefore, must be treated immediately.
- Pregnancy: during pregnancy, the intestinal transit process may also slow down and gas production may increase.
- Premenstrual syndrome: includes a set of symptoms that some women suffer from before menstruation. Among them is abdominal bloating. Although it’s not a serious clinical condition, it is quite uncomfortable.
- Lactose intolerance: as the intestine isn’t able to digest lactose properly, fermentation in the digestive tract increases.
Keep reading: How to Make 5 Teas for Stomach Gases
When to be concerned
Abdominal swelling is almost always a benign process. It lasts a few hours and goes away without the person having to do anything in particular. However, there are situations that hide a more serious process.
One of the measures for concern is that the swelling persists. In benign cases, the discomfort shouldn’t last for more than 24 hours. In life-threatening cases, persistence increases in intensity. Moreover, in chronic conditions (such as dyspepsia), an article published in 2014 by the Revista de Ciencias Médicas de Pinar del Río explains that 12 weeks is taken as a limiting measure.
These 12 weeks also apply to conditions such as celiac disease or malabsorption syndromes. Of course, these conditions are accompanied by diarrhea and major digestive changes. Gastroenteritis also has accompanying symptoms that go hand in hand with bloating. In these cases there may be diarrhea, vomiting and even fever.
You should be concerned if there’s intense pain, as doctors must rule out problems such as cirrhosis (late stage of liver scarring), neoplasms (abnormal mass or tumor in the tissue), clots and thrombi. In this sense, the history and the presence of risk factors can guide the professional in the search for a diagnosis.
How to reduce abdominal bloating
Since the main cause of abdominal bloating is excessive, copious or poorly carried out eating, there are certain measures that can be taken to reduce it. Among these, the American College of Gastroenterology advises the following:
- Increased fiber in diet: fruits and vegetables improve intestinal transit because of their fiber component. In cases where constipation is the cause of abdominal bloating, it’s advisable to increase consumption.
- Physical activity: sports practice improves the functioning of the digestive tract, helping to eliminate gas.
- Hydration: consuming the exact amount of water required by the body every day keeps the intestinal mucous membranes hydrated. It’s also important to drink non-carbonated water.
- Avoid chewing gum: excessive chewing can cause gas in the digestive tract.
- Eat slowly: large meals eaten quickly also alter the movement of the digestive tract. Doctors recommend that we eat slowly and take our time with each bite.
Visit your doctor regularly to monitor swelling
It’s important to ask a professional if you have questions about the characteristics of abdominal swelling. In this regard, we don’t recommend assuming that it’s something usual or normal.
If you have doubts because the symptom seems to last longer than expected or is accompanied by other signs, make an appointment with your doctor. In the meantime, you can apply the dietary measures we have suggested to alleviate the uncomfortable sensation.