A bloated stomach feels tight, full and often painful. You might feel bloated even if you don’t have a distended abdomen. Bloating is usually a digestive issue, though hormones and stress also play a part. Sometimes there is an underlying medical condition.
A bloated stomach is first and foremost a feeling of tightness, pressure or fullness in your belly. It may or may not be accompanied by a visibly distended (swollen) abdomen. The feeling can range from mildly uncomfortable to intensely painful. It usually goes away after a while, but for some people, it’s a recurring problem. Digestive issues and hormone fluctuations can cause cyclical bloating. If your bloated stomach doesn’t go away, you should seek medical care to determine the cause.
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The most common cause of stomach pain and bloating is excess intestinal gas. If you get a bloated stomach after eating, it may be a digestive issue. It might be as simple as eating too much too fast, or you could have a food intolerance or other condition that causes gas and digestive contents to build up. Your menstrual cycle is another common cause of temporary bloating. Sometimes a bloated stomach can indicate a more serious medical condition.
Between 10% and 25% of otherwise healthy people complain of occasional abdominal bloating. As many as 75% describe their symptoms as moderate to severe. About 10% say they experience it regularly. Among those diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), it may be as much as 90%. Up to 75% of women experience bloating before and during their period. Only 50% of people who experience bloating also report a distended abdomen.
Gas is a natural byproduct of digestion, but too much intestinal gas means your digestion is gone awry. While you can ingest gasses by swallowing air or drinking carbonated beverages, these gasses mostly escape through belching before they reach your intestines. Gasses in your intestines are mostly produced by gut bacteria digesting carbohydrates, in a process called fermentation.
If there’s too much fermentation going on, it’s because too many carbohydrates weren’t naturally absorbed earlier in the digestive process, before reaching those gut bacteria. That could be for several reasons. Maybe you just ate too much too fast for proper digestion. Or you might have a specific food intolerance or gastrointestinal (GI) disease. Some possible causes include:
These can include solids, liquids, and gas. Digestive contents can build up in your digestive system when there is a backup or restriction in your digestive tract or when the muscles that move digestive contents along are somehow impaired. Any build-up of digestive contents along the digestive tract will leave less room for normal amounts of gas to process through. It also leaves less room for other things in your abdomen, including circulatory fluids and fat, making everything feel tighter. Causes of build-up can include:
Maybe you’ve noticed that your stomach bloating follows a different cycle — not so much your digestive cycle, but your menstrual cycle. If so, you’re not alone. As many as 3 in 4 women say they experience abdominal bloating before and during their menstrual periods. Bloating is also a common complaint during the hormone fluctuations of perimenopause. Female hormones deserve a special mention when it comes to stomach bloating because they can affect bloating from many angles — fluids, gas, digestive back-up — and also your sensitivity to those things.
First, estrogen causes water retention. When estrogen spikes and progesterone drops, you'll notice bloating from fluids. This, in addition to the increased volume of your uterus just before menstruation, can give you a bloated stomach. But hormones also interact with your digestive system. Estrogen and progesterone can each cause intestinal gas by either slowing or speeding your motility. Estrogen receptors in your GI tract also affect your visceral sensitivity — what makes you feel bloated.
Bloating that comes and goes is usually digestive, hormonal or both. These causes can also make you feel generally sick and tired. As long as your symptoms eventually go away, they probably aren't serious. But if your bloated stomach doesn’t go away or gets worse, or if you have other symptoms of serious illness, such as fever or vomiting, you should seek medical attention to rule out other medical causes. These may include:
If your bloating is due to something you ate or drank or to hormone fluctuations, it should begin to ease within a few hours to days. If you are constipated, it won’t go down until you start pooping. Water, exercise and herbal teas can help encourage all of these things along. If it doesn’t go away or gets worse, seek medical attention.
What brings relief in the long term will depend on the cause of your distress. You might need a professional diagnosis to get to the bottom of it. But if you’re looking for home remedies to debloat your stomach today or avoid bloating tomorrow, there are a few things you can try.
If your stomach bloating is caused by diet or alcohol, you can help prevent it by making some lifestyle changes. Some good general guidelines include:
If the cause of your bloated stomach is something more specific, such as specific food intolerance, perimenopause or a medical condition, you might need a little help with diagnosis, treatment and prevention. Some options include:
See your healthcare provider if your bloated stomach:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
A bloated stomach is not a pleasant feeling. While it’s a common experience and usually temporary, you may become weary of the cycle. Spending a little focused attention on the problem to identify the cause can be well worthwhile. Try recording your symptoms and possible triggers in a journal. Note diet, hormonal and stress factors. When in doubt bring your notes to a specialist for professional guidance. The different factors that contribute to bloating can be complex and difficult to parse, but medical testing can help. As always, seek medical attention if your symptoms are persistent or severe.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/10/2021.
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