Is bloating after meals normal?
Bloating happens when the GI tract is filled with air or gas, as a result of the fermentation of food after meals. Some foods produce more gas than others or it can also be due to a food intolerance e.g. dairy/lactose. This type of bloating typically occurs 2-8 hours after food, depending on what you’ve eaten. The most common triggers include apples, dairy products, beans, cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and cabbage, lettuce, onion, peaches, and pears. Artificial sweeteners, like those found in diet sodas, can also be a cause of bloating. Many people cannot digest these sweeteners, resulting in an unusual amount of gas.
Salt is another well-known culprit of bloating. When people talk about losing water weight, what they are referring to is the body’s natural tendency to decrease water retention when salt intake is reduced. Avoiding foods with high salt content can prevent water retention and the bloated feeling associated with it.
You may also have experienced ‘instant bloating’, where the stomach is distended within 15 minutes of eating, and usually not from consuming fermentable carbohydrates. You may feel conscious and frsutrated about how your clothes fit after a meal. Those that experience frequent bloating and distension is not as a result of the food they ate and the gases produced as a by-product of fermentation, but uncoordinated abdominal wall muscles.
This was documented in a new 2019 study, where participants ate lettuce, a poorly fermentable, bulky food and a CT scan was performed 1 hour after ingestion. The study participants that experienced bloating and distension had an abnormal somatic response, triggering discoordination of the diaphragm and abdominal walls – meaning the diaphragm didn’t move up adequately to accomodate increased volumes.
Figure 1: Abdominal CT image in a patient during basal conditions (left) and during an episode of lettuce-induced distension (right). Note that abdominal distension is associated to a diaphragmatic descent (blue arrow) and anterior wall protusion (orange arrow) without substantial increase of intestinal gas.
(Image from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6899808/)
Although there is some gas produced in the colon after eating lettuce, this amount wasn’t enough to account for visible abdominal distension. This demonstrates that it’s not always food that causes bloating and distension. Those who experience this condition can learn to control their abdominal muscles with biofeedback therapy to reduce the bloating and distension or see a pelvic floor physiotherapist to assess proper function of the pelvis and diaphragm.
While bloating can be uncomfortable, it is usually temporary and will subside on its own in time. However, bloating can be caused by something more serious. Read on to see if the type of bloating you frequently experience warrants a visit to the doctor.
Symptoms of bloating
Common symptoms of bloating include stomach pain, discomfort and gas. You may also burp or belch frequently or have abdominal rumbling. Severe bloating may occur along with other serious symptoms, such as:
- Blood in your stool
- Noticeable weight loss (without trying)
- Vaginal bleeding (between your periods, or if you are postmenopausal)
- Heartburn that is getting worse
- Fever (due to an infection)
If you have any of these symptoms along with bloating, call your family doctor.
Causes of bloating
- Swallowing air (this can happen when you chew gum, smoke, or eat too fast)
- Reflux (GERD)
- Weight gain
- Menstruation (in some women)
Other causes could include medical conditions, such as:
- Inflammation (such as a condition called diverticulitis)
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- Liver disease (abnormal buildup of fluid in your stomach or pelvis)
- Crohn’s disease
- Blockage in your bowel or bladder
- Cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, pancreatic, or stomach)
- Mental health factors, such as anxiety or depression
- Some medicines
Bye Bye Bloat (dietary related)
The best way to relieve bloating is to prevent its occurence. As dietary triggers are often the cause of bloating, knowing which foods you are most sensitive to is vital to avoid bloating. Reducing your intake of salt, carbonated beverages and fatty foods can play a big part in preventing stomach bloating.
If bloating is a regular, persistent issue even after following the tips above, consult your doctor. There may be a larger medical concern in your digestive system. Overall, watch what you eat and do your best to maintain a happy, healthy lifestyle and you’ll be bloat-free in no time.
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