Symptoms Of IBS: Bloating

Bloating around the stomach area affects over 80 percent of people with IBS. It is usually not the most severe symptom of IBS. However, it is one of the most commonly reported and is often the reason people with IBS seek medical care.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 intestinal gas.2

Treating bloating usually involves diet and lifestyle changes. And, there are some drugs that may decrease bloating. No single treatment works for everyone. That is why it is good to talk to your doctor to find the right treatment for you.

What is bloating?

Most people describe bloating as feeling full, tight, or swollen in the abdomen. Some people report that their abdomen is relatively flat in the morning but becomes swollen throughout the day. The distension then reduces overnight or after lying down.3

Bloating has been reported in 10-30 percent of the general population and in over 80 percent of people with IBS. More than half of people who have bloating say that it reduces their daily activities.1

Women are more likely to bloat than men. People with constipation-predominant IBS (IBS-C) and mixed-IBS are more likely to experience bloating than people with diarrhea-predominant IBS (IBS-D).

Bloating and stomach cramps are the most common, most bothersome symptoms for people with IBS.1

People with IBS are more likely to seek medical care if they experience bloating. Bloating also may affect the quality of life. People who feel bloated report lower energy, less food intake, and tend to have poorer physical functioning.1

Why does IBS cause bloating?

Doctors do not yet know why IBS causes bloating. People often say they feel bloated when they believe excessive gas is trapped in the stomach or intestines. Intestinal gas is mostly generated by healthy bacteria in the colon. These bacteria break down carbohydrates (sugars, starches, and fibers) that are not digested in the stomach or intestines.

However, no studies have shown that increased intestinal gas leads to bloating. It may instead be that people with IBS are more sensitive to normal amounts of gas.2,4

For example, people who experience bloating may have a larger motor response to gas. This could happen because of imbalances in their colon’s bacteria population. It could also be due to defective interactions with the nervous system.2,5

How is bloating treated?

There are many treatments for bloating. It may take time to find the right one for you. So it is a good idea to track your diet and symptoms and communicate often with your doctor about symptom changes.

The first treatment is often to change your diet to avoid foods that increase flatulence, such as beans, onions, celery, carrots, raisins, prunes, and brussels sprouts. Talk to your doctor if you want to change your diet. They can advise you on what to avoid and how to still get the nutrients you need.6

Many doctors will suggest a diet low in FODMAPs, which are found in many grains, legumes, fruits, and dairy. But a sustained low-FODMAP diet can be unhealthy. So your doctor may help you create a modified version that works for you and is healthier long-term.

Other simpler modifications may also help. Eating smaller, regular meals is better than fasting all day and then having a large meal in the evening. It may also help to reduce fiber and fat consumption. Mild exercise and erect posture may also improve bloating for some people.3

Some drugs may reduce abdominal bloating. This includes antacids that contain simethicone and products that contain activated charcoal. Probiotics and antibiotics may support bacteria that produce less gas in the intestines. But these therapies lack clear evidence of reducing bloating.2

Treatment is typically most successful with a holistic approach that combines diet and lifestyle changes, exercise, and drugs. Talk to your doctor to determine the right combination of treatments for you.

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Written by: Jessica Johns Pool | Last reviewed: June 2020.