If there are rumbling and grumbling sounds coming from your stomach, they may be embarrassing, but most likely they're just the normal cacophony of sounds your gastrointestinal system makes as it processes food. Because the intestines are hollow, bowel sounds can echo throughout the stomach, making similar sounds pipes make as water flows through.

In some instances, however, a change in the normal pattern of your bowel sounds, either an increase or a decrease in the volume and frequency, can signal a health problem. A reduction in the loudness or regularity of bowel sounds (hypoactive) may indicate a slowing of intestinal activity and can be caused by certain medications, including opiates, abdominal surgery or radiation to the abdomen. Decreased or no stomach sounds also often indicate constipation. In some instances, a silent stomach can mean there's a more serious problem, such as a bowel or blood vessel obstruction, hernia, tumor or infection.

If, on the other hand, your stomach noise is growing louder and more insistent (hyperactive), it means that there is an increase in intestinal activity, which could have myriad causes, including Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, bleeding in the intestinal tract, diarrhea or a food allergy.

If you're experiencing a change in your normal stomach sounds, try keeping a "stomach sound diary" for two to three weeks, recording all the food and drinks you consume, whether you are stressed, anxious or upset, and if you skipped meals and the intestinal activity they sparked. A new diet, especially one that is significantly lower in calories; drinking carbonated and caffeinated drinks; swallowing excessive air, for example, from eating too quickly; consuming foods containing sweeteners; and stress can all raise your stomach sound level.

When to See Your Physician

Call your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Bleeding from the rectum
  • Nausea
  • Prolonged diarrhea or constipation
  • Vomiting

During your office visit, your doctor will give you a physical exam you and ask you a series of questions about your medical history, including:

  • Have you noticed any abdominal distention?
  • Do you have abdominal pain?
  • Do you have excessive or absent gas?

In addition to the physical exam, your doctor may order tests, including:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Blood tests
  • Endoscopy

Depending on the diagnosis, you may be given medication to reduce symptoms and treat the cause of the problem. In some instances, surgery may be required.