Why Am I Always Bloated? 10 Reasons Your Belly Feels Swollen and Inflated

Why Am I Always Bloated? 10 Reasons Your Belly Feels Swollen and Inflated

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Some days, your jeans just fit a little tighter. Your belly may puff out after lunch every once in a while, or out of nowhere, your tummy feels full or tight. If you know this sensation well, you’re well acquainted with bloating. For a majority of people, bloating is related to gastrointestinal issues, hormonal shifts, or lifestyle habits, like diet and exercise, and isn’t cause for major concern. For doctors and some patients, however, bloating can actually signal a more serious health problem.

“Bloating is essentially just water retention and some air that gets trapped in the belly, too,” says Monica Christmas, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Chicago Medicine. If you’re feeling bloated occasionally to where you’ll often forget about the last occurrence — meaning, the bloat deflated all on its own — then it’s likely not an issue you need to discuss with your healthcare provider.

When bloating becomes a daily occurrence, or something that is intensely painful, and feels completely new (meaning there are symptoms you’ve never noticed before), that’s when you need to think twice. Bloating on a chronic basis, especially if it’s extremely painful or uncomfortable, is something to discuss with your doctor at your next check in. “If you’re having more bad days than good days, it’s worth seeking evaluation,” Dr. Christmas adds.

Before you do, think about the root causes of your bloating — these are some of the most common reasons that we tend to bloat.

You may be getting your period soon.

Bloating typically accompanies the natural hormonal fluctuations of the menstrual cycle, Dr. Christmas tells Good Housekeeping, and it happens most often during the luteal phase. “That’s the time when your hormone levels are rising because it’s right after you ovulate and your body starts to prepare the uterus for an impending pregnancy,” she explains. The luteal phase ends when your period actually begins.

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During this time, the hormones estrogen and progesterone increase in the body and are usually to blame for bloating. Estrogen can heighten water retention, and progesterone can slow the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, causing constipation in the long run. You might counteract some of this by adapting your diet around your cycle.

You could be constipated.

Constipation is one of the most common GI problems, according to Johns Hopkins Health, and it affects women more than men. Along with your period, not drinking enough water, not eating enough fiber and taking some medications may make you constipated. “The lower GI is where you tend to feel very distended,” says Deborah Fisher, M.D., a gastroenterologist and associate professor of medicine at the Duke University School of Medicine. Constipation may make you feel bloated or like you need to pass gas. Cramps are also common, and if you’re feeling bloated at the same time, you might resolve both by making a few trips to the restroom.

You might be pregnant.

The many hormonal changes that you experience during pregnancy can cause bloating, especially during the first trimester. Dr. Christmas says the bloating is mostly due to the increased progesterone production during pregnancy, which can slow down digestion. This can make you constipated or gassy. As the baby grows, starts to take up more space, and pushes on your organs, bloating may get worse.

You could be nearing perimenopause.

Perimenopause is the stage when your body starts to transition to menopause (which comes with many more challenges), and can occur anywhere from your mid-30s to your 40s. “When women become perimenopausal, your ovaries don’t have a synchronized secretion of hormones anymore,” Dr. Christmas explains. Fluctuating hormones may increase water retention and bloating, and some foods, like dairy, can make it worse. Usually, by the time you reach menopause, estrogen levels drop, and bloating tends to subside, she says.

You’re swallowing too much air.

Inadvertently swallowing too much air when you eat or drink, a condition known as aerophagia, may cause bloating and belching, Dr. Fisher says, “So drinking through a straw or having carbonated beverages are things that tend to contribute to upper GI bloating.”

Eating too fast and chewing gum may also cause you to ingest too much air, adds Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D., registered dietitian in the Good Housekeeping Institute. “Try your best to slow down when you eat, properly chew your food, and make sure you’re staying hydrated throughout the day,” she says.

why am i always bloated 10 reasons your belly feels swollen and inflated

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You could be lactose intolerant.

When you have lactose intolerance, you’re not able to fully digest milk sugars, known as lactose. When these undigested sugars reach your colon, “they can make people very bloated and crampy,” Dr. Fisher says. It can take just 30 minutes (or up to two hours) after consuming lactose-rich foods for bloating and other symptoms, like diarrhea, gas and stomach cramps, to start. Lactose intolerance affects about 65% of the population, and it can develop or worsen with age.

You might have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition affecting the large intestine and routinely impacts those suffering from it with symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain and gas. Dr. Fisher explains that IBS can affect people differently — some have more problems with constipation, but others experience diarrhea more often. Either way, bloating (along with gas and cramps) is common with IBS.

You’re eating too many gas-inducing foods.

What you’ve eaten during the day, and your meals leading up to your pain, should be the first thing you look at when you feel bloated. If you’re eating too many foods that form gas — think: cabbage, beans, lentils and Brussels sprouts — bloating can be soon to follow. “Very fatty and salty foods, especially processed foods, can also contribute to these symptoms,” Sassos adds.

High FODMAP foods (also known as fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), including apples, garlic, onions, beans and cashews, can also make many feel bloated over time. FODMAPs are a group of small-chain carbohydrates that are tough to digest, and Sassos says that those dealing with IBS may actually benefit from switching to what’s known as a low-FODMAP diet. Unless you’ve already been diagnosed with IBS and have discussed your diet with a care provider, it’s best to talk to a registered dietician before you change your diet.

You’re not getting enough exercise.

Exercise can do wonders for your GI tract. Essentially, it gets things moving (really, unblocked!) and decreases your risk for constipation and, therefore, bloating. Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week, along with strength-building exercises. “Just by exercise and adhering to a plant-forward diet, like the Mediterranean diet, it’s beneficial for a lot of things and can help with bloating, as well,” Dr. Christmas says.

It could be an early warning sign of a serious condition.

It’s rare compared to other reasons on this list, but bloating may signify another issue that has nothing to do with your lifestyle choices. Constant bloating that doesn’t go away after your period, or new instances of bloating that are irregular, could be an early sign of ovarian cancer or colon cancer. Bloating could also signal a number of other serious gastrointestinal problems, such as a bowel blockage, ulcer or conditions like Crohn’s disease.

Pay attention to other symptoms that accompany your bloating, Dr. Christmas says. If you also have constipation, diarrhea, bloody stool, vomiting with blood, pelvic or abdominal pain, and abnormal uterine bleeding or vaginal discharge, changes in appetite, or start feeling full quickly, you should make an appointment with your doctor.

“Any time you have any concern that’s bothering you, especially if it’s something new, you need to be evaluated,” she says.

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