Stomach inflation: Common Causes and Relief

Stomach inflation refers to a bulge in your belly. While many may attribute stomach bulging to weight gain or excess fat, there could be several alternative causes. This article will discuss the potential reasons you are experiencing stomach inflation and how to resolve it. 

What causes stomach inflation? 

You may be experiencing stomach inflation for numerous reasons, including hormones, bloating, weight gain, and more. Here, we will discuss these causes and why they occur. 

Gastrointestinal (GI) problems 

GI abnormalities can cause you to feel bloated. Bloating refers to the sensation you feel when your stomach feels tight and full, often protruding your belly. Bloating can be caused by several different conditions, including: 

  • Constipation. Constipation is when you cannot or strain to have a bowel movement despite feeling the need to go. Symptoms include struggling to have a bowel movement, having stool that resembles pebbles, or not feeling relief after having a bowel movement. When stool sits in your colon for an extended period, bacteria ferments for longer. Fermentation causes gas and bloating. 
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Individuals with IBS have increased sensitivity to gas. Gas can cause bloating, cramping, pain, and diarrhea. 
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). Everyone has low levels of bacteria in their small intestine. Some individuals with IBS or who have had intestinal surgery develop SIBO. With SIBO, there is an increased number of bacteria in the intestines, causing bloating. 
  • Gastroparesis. Gastroparesis is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty its contents completely. Buildup can cause blockage, nausea, and a swollen abdomen1

Food intolerance 

If your body has trouble digesting a particular food, you may experience stomach inflation. Food intolerances and food allergies can cause increased production of gas in the GI tract. Additionally, gas can become trapped in the GI tract. Gas buildup commonly occurs with sensitivities to foods such as gluten or wheat2.

Hormones 

Stomach inflation can occur due to hormone changes in your body. In women specifically, estrogen levels can contribute to bloating. Estrogen causes your body to retain water. Therefore, when your estrogen spikes during your menstrual cycle, you are more likely to experience bloat. 

Additionally, estrogen and progesterone affect the motility in your intestine, indirectly causing gas. Likewise, up to 75 percent of women experience bloating before and during their period. Bloating is also a common symptom of perimenopause, which is the time leading up to menopause3.

Weight gain 

Weight gain is one of the most obvious causes of a swollen stomach. The weight you have gained within the past year will most likely go to your stomach, which can manifest as a bloated belly. Additionally, weight gain can cause water retention, causing you to feel bloated3.

Medications 

Several over-the-counter and prescription medications can cause belly inflation. Common examples of such medicines that do this include: 

  • Opioids 
  • Aspirin 
  • Antacids 
  • Multivitamins 
  • Iron pills 
  • Fiber supplements and bulking agents (e.g., Metamucil)4

Cancer 

In severe cases, constant bloating and swelling in your stomach can be a sign of cancer. Belly inflation with no apparent cause can sometimes be attributed to ovarian cancer, specifically5.

How do you relieve stomach inflation? 

Diet and exercise 

Increasing your physical activity levels and changing your eating habits can help to reduce stomach inflation. Carbonated drinks, caffeine, and alcohol can contribute to bloating. Additionally, certain foods can cause gas, such as beans or cabbage. 

Eliminating these from your diet or reducing your intake can help relieve inflation in your stomach. Additionally, removing foods you are sensitive to or allergic to can relieve bloating. In addition, high-fiber foods can improve constipation symptoms. Drinking plenty of water can also help.

Along with diet, routinely working out can better your digestion, thus preventing bloating. Additionally, exercise can relieve bloating. Consider working out regularly to avoid stomach inflation6.

Keep a food log 

If your bloating is related to food sensitivities or allergies, you can keep a food diary to track your diet and symptoms. A journal can help you understand correlations between what you eat and when you experience bloating. When you identify food triggers, you can eliminate them from your diet or reduce your intake2.

Medicine 

Depending on what is causing your bloating, you may be able to treat stomach inflation with medication. For example, if your belly is swelling due to constipation, you can take a laxative to treat the underlying cause of constipation. If you have stomach inflation due to gas, taking an over-the-counter medicine such as Gas-X can relieve your symptoms. 

When to see a doctor? 

While most bloating is not serious, certain signs and symptoms indicate something may be wrong. See your doctor if your swollen stomach: 

  • Continues for more than a week 
  • Gets progressively worse 
  • Is consistently painful 
  • Is accompanied by symptoms such as vomiting, fever, or bleeding3

Get help from an online doctor 

Seeing an online doctor allows you to get medical advice instantly from the comfort of your own home. DrHouse has several providers on-call and available for virtual online doctors visits within 15 minutes. Additionally, DrHouse provides same-day in-office visits via the app for an in-person experience. 

If you think you are concerned about your bloated stomach, book an appointment with us today. 

Key Takeaways 

An inflated stomach usually does not indicate something serious, but it can be an uncomfortable feeling. Key points to remember about bloating include: 

  • Bloating can be due to several things. Common causes of stomach inflation include GI conditions, food intolerance, hormones, weight gain, and medication. Occasionally, certain types of cancer, such as ovarian cancer, can cause bloating. 
  • How you treat stomach inflation will depend on the underlying cause. Common treatments include exercise, proper diet, medication, and eliminating trigger foods using a food diary. 
  • Severe signs of stomach inflation include symptoms lasting more than a week, worsening symptoms, pain, vomiting, fever, or bleeding. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor if you have any of these signs.

Sources:

DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.

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