Bloating is usually described as a feeling of fullness and pressure in the abdomen. More women than men complain of this symptom.

For women, the most obvious cause of bloat is water-retention during the menstrual cycle. But bloating may also be caused by gas build-up in the stomach and intestines. If not passed through belching or flatulence, it can lead to abdominal pain. In this case, passing gas or having a bowel movement may relieve the pain.

According to the Mayo Clinic and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), bloating may be triggered by:

  • The types of food you eat (Foods high in fat delay stomach emptying and increase feeling of fullness; carbohydrates, such as beans, cruciferous vegetables—broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower—chewing gum and hard candy, and fruits like apples, peaches, and pears can cause gas)
  • Stress
  • Swallowing air (possibly from gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), eating too quickly, drinking carbonated beverages, or even resulting from a nervous habit)
  • An infection, blockage, or disease of the gastrointestinal tract
  • Lactose intolerance and other food intolerances (such as gluten)
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Medications that include lactulaose or sorbitol

Bloating can be more than an uncomfortable feeling of fullness. It can signal serious conditions such as Celiac disease, dumping syndrome, and ovarian cancer. See your doctor if you experience bloating, especially if it's accompanied with one of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn that is getting worse
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Bloody stools, or stools that are dark in color

Bloating and IBS

As many as 1 in 5 Americans have Irritable Bowel Syndrome, a disorder affecting the large intestine and results in symptoms such as cramping, abdominal pain, gas, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating. In fact, 80-90 percent of IBS sufferers report bloating as a symptom—and it's more than bothersome. Many of those IBS patients also report decreased energy, level of physical activity, and a lowered food intake.

Abdominal Distension

While bloating is the feeling of an enlarged abdomen, distension is an actual, measurable change in one's girth.

A myriad of medical conditions may result in abdominal distension. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Obesity
  • Pregnancy
  • IBS
  • Constipation
  • Fibroids
  • An enlarged bladder

Abdominal Distension and IBS

IBS patients who experience constipation are more likely to show more abdominal distension than those patients with diarrhea alone.

Beating Bloat and Treating Abdominal Distension

Bloating and distension are difficult to treat. If the condition is caused by IBS, lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet may improve symptoms. One study found that relieving constipation by increasing gut motility may help reduce distension.




Abdominal Bloating. Medline Plus. Web. 2010

Gas and gas pains. Mayo Clinic. Web. 2011

Abdominal Distension and Bloating. Web. 2010

Bloating, Distension and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Medscape. 2012