How to relieve bloating

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Feeling bloated after a meal can be uncomfortable and unpleasant. What causes bloating and what can be done to reduce or eliminate it?

While the term “bloated” can be an umbrella term to describe a general feeling of tightness throughout any part of the body, this article will focus on excessive digestive gas and swelling of the stomach.

Why do we produce gas?

People produce gas in two ways: by swallowing air and by digesting food.

Most belching is caused by swallowing excess air that accumulates in the oesophagus. A person may swallow excess air if they eat or drink too fast, talk while they eat, chew gum, suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages, or smoke.

With regards to intestinal gas, this is a natural by-product of digestion. Intestinal gas is a mix of oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, hydrogen and methane. The body releases this gas through the mouth (belching) or rectum (flatulence). 

Excess intestinal gas

Digestion is a complex process that begins in the mouth and finishes in the small intestine. There can be numerous causes of excessive intestinal gas, including:

  • Eating too much of certain foods. Foods that cause excessive gas include legumes, whole grains, and some vegetables like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, or brussels sprouts.
  • Inability to fully digest certain foods. Some people have problems digesting certain carbohydrates like lactose or fructose.
  • Disruption in the digestive tract’s bacteria. Good bacteria form the gut’s microbiota and are an integral part of digestion.
  • Constipation and other blockages (including cancer) may prevent gas from passing easily through the digestive tract and hence accumulate.
  • Medical conditions such as Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, diabetes, diverticulitis, irritable bowel syndrome, or ulcerative colitis.

How can I reduce gas?

The following tips can help reduce belching, flatulence, and the feeling of abdominal bloating:

  • Eat and drink slowly. This both prevents the swallowing of air as well as helps optimise digestion.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages. Some people erroneously believe that fizzy drinks help expel gas, when in fact the opposite is true.
  • Avoid chewing gum. This inevitably leads to the swallowing of air.
  • Exercise. Physical activity helps push gas through the digestive tract.
  • See your doctor if you suffer from heartburn.
  • Avoid certain foods. Food intolerances vary greatly from person to person, so the foods to avoid will also vary. Sometimes a moderate reduction of an ingredient will suffice, whereas other times outright dietary elimination is recommended.
  • Consume carminatives. Carminatives are typically herbal drinks intended on combatting flatulence. These include star anise, chamomile, dill, fennel, basil, cumin, turmeric, or peppermint.

When to see a doctor?

Feeling gassy is not usually indicative of a serious disease. It is advisable to see a doctor if symptoms also include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Chest discomfort.
  • Feeling full (satiety) after eating a small amount.
  • Changes in stool colour.
  • Rectal bleeding.
  • Persistent abdominal pain.

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