Bloating and IBS

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed December 2022

Bloating around the stomach area affects over 90 percent of people with IBS. It is usually not the most severe symptom of IBS, but it is one of the most common symptoms.1

Bloating refers to the feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen or a feeling of trapped gas. It is related to distension, which causes visible swelling of the abdomen. Bloating and distension may be caused by having too much gas in the intestines.1

Bloating is treated with diet and lifestyle changes. There are some drugs that may decrease bloating. No single treatment works for everyone. Talk to your doctor to find the right treatment for you.1

What is bloating?

Most people describe bloating as feeling full, tight, or swollen in the abdomen. Some people report that their bloating gets worse throughout the day and gets better overnight or after lying down.1-4

Bloating has been reported in 20 to 30 percent of the general population and in over 90 percent of people with IBS. While it is mostly just a nuisance, bloating can be uncomfortable and can interfere with daily life in physical and emotional ways.1,3,4

Who gets bloating?

Women are more likely to bloat than men. Women are also more prone to bloat around their menstrual cycles.3

Bloating and stomach cramps are the most common, bothersome symptoms for people with IBS. People with constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C) and mixed IBS (IBS-M) are more likely to have bloating than people with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).1-3

Why does IBS cause bloating?

Intestinal gas is not abnormal. Healthy bacteria mostly generate gas in the colon. These bacteria break down carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fibers) that are not digested in the stomach or intestines. People often say they feel bloated when they believe excessive gas is trapped in the stomach or intestines.1-3

But in people with IBS, the bloating is much more pronounced and frequent. Researchers are still working to understand why IBS causes bloating.1-3

It may be that people with IBS are more sensitive to gas. Another reason could be that people with IBS have a harder time moving gas through the digestive tract. Another theory is an imbalance in gut bacteria.3

How can diet treat bloating?

There are many ways to treat bloating. Usually, the first step in treating gas and bloating is to avoid foods that increase gas and flatulence, like:1-3

  • Apricots
  • Beans
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Prunes
  • Raisins

Consider tracking your diet with a food journal where you can jot down what you eat and any symptoms that may arise. Talk with your doctor about any symptom changes you may have.

Many doctors will suggest a diet low in FODMAPs. FODMAPs are types of sugars found in certain foods that can increase gas and bloating, like:1,4

  • Dairy
  • Fruit
  • Grains
  • Legumes

A low-FODMAP diet is very restrictive at first. Then, slowly, foods are reintroduced to your diet to see if they cause any symptoms.4

Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist if you want to change your diet. They can advise you on what to avoid and how to still get the nutrients you need.2

What are other ways to treat bloating?

There are other ways to treat bloat that may also help. Eating smaller, regular meals throughout the day is better than fasting all day and then having a large meal in the evening. It may also help to reduce the amount of fiber and fat that you eat.1,2

Regular exercise can greatly reduce bloating and can get gas moving. If you sit for long periods of time during the day, make sure to stand at least once every hour to move around and stretch. Even better, take a 5-minute walking break every hour.2

Some drugs may help reduce bloating. These include antacids that contain simethicone and products that contain activated charcoal. Probiotics and antibiotics may support good bacteria that produce less gas in the intestines.1,4

Treatment is most successful with a holistic approach that combines diet and lifestyle changes, exercise, and drugs. It may take time to find the best path forward. Talk with your doctor about which therapies might be right for you.1-3

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