Life Health & Wellbeing

Monday 14 October 2019

Top 5 reasons you are bloated

You can take steps to reduce bloating
You can take steps to reduce bloating

We're all likely to experience bloating at some stage - at its very worst it can impact on our quality of life. Dr Doireann O’Leary examines the most common causes.

1 Could it be IBS?

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Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is probably the most common cause of bloating. It's a disorder of the gut that results in the transit of food through the digestive system either too slowly or too quickly.

The bowel is a complex and large organ; how it reacts to food is influenced by a delicate balance of hormonal and nervous system inputs as well as our gut flora; the gut tends to be more sensitive to these inputs in IBS patients. It's a specific condition, not just a catch-all term for a "weak stomach". Symptoms include constipation, diarrhoea, bloating, and sometimes mucus from the back passage.

It's important to discuss bloating with your doctor. Medical conditions like coeliac disease need to be ruled out before a diagnosis of IBS can be made.

Certain foods and psychological stress are known to exacerbate IBS and bloating. Foods high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligo- di- mono- saccharides and polyols, i.e. short chain carbohydrates) are known to trigger IBS. Examples of high FODMAP foods include apples and garlic. A low FODMAP diet has been shown to improve quality of life for about 70pc of IBS sufferers. This diet shouldn't be undertaken alone. It's advised that it is done under the guidance of a dietitian.

2 Gas-producing foods...

It's pretty well-known that beans (fondly known as "musical fruit"!) cause gas and bloating but did you know that bananas, caffeine and alcohol also can?

Gluten can also result in bloating even in those without coeliac disease; non-coeliac gluten sensitivity is now being recognised in medical literature. But, as I mentioned above, it's very important to have coeliac disease formally ruled out by your doctor before embarking on a gluten-free diet.

3 Regulate your gut bacteria...

It's normal for our gut to produce gas as a result of digesting food. However, if the flora (bacteria) of the gut is altered, it can result in bothersome bloating. Probiotics can help and have been shown to improve symptoms of IBS for some people. As someone who suffers from IBS myself, I've found my morning probiotic called Alflorex to be hugely beneficial.

4 Are you swallowing air?

Air swallowing (aerophagia) is another important factor to consider. Things we often do mindlessly like chewing gum, smoking or drinking fizzy drinks increase the amount of air we swallow and can cause bloating. Sometimes it's the smallest of habits, that we may not even realise we're doing on a daily basis, that can have a bigger impact on our bodies and health than we think.

5 Gyno health for women...

Women have the added luxury of having a womb and two ovaries in their abdominal cavity, which can be the root cause of bloating; it's not always our gut. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can cause notable monthly bloating, with some women fluctuating a few kg each month.

Interestingly, PMS can exacerbate IBS, with women often suffering from constipation and/or diarrhoea, depending on the phase of their menstrual cycle. Furthermore, growths on ovaries can also be a cause of bloating. This is why it's important to talk to your doctor to get checked. We want to know and we can help.

Dr Doireann O'Leary is a Cork-based doctor working in general practice. She graduated with an honours degree from UCC in 2011 and has a special interest in IBS.

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