15 Bloating Causes, Symptoms, And Signs You Should Pay Attention To


We’ve all experienced that uncomfortable feeling of bloat. Bloating causes pain and can diminish self-confidence, making mealtimes way less enjoyable.

As a functional medicine practitioner, I see countless patients struggle with this issue on a daily basis and it’s my job to help them alleviate it and uncover what is triggering it in the first place. So if you find yourself dealing with excessive bloating, read on to learn how to finally fight the bloat once and for all.

What is bloating?

Bloating is normal and happens when air produced from gut bacteria during digestion, is trapped in the digestive system. Chronic bloating however, is another issue entirely and is usually a sign of something going on beneath the surface.

Symptoms of bloating

While everyone’s individual health case is going to look different, these are the most common symptoms of bloating. You don’t have to experience every single symptom to still be struggling with bloating.

     1. Tightness in stomach

When you’re bloated, your stomach may feel tight due to the build up of gas and stool in your intestines.

     2. Pain

Because your body isn’t able to rid itself of excess stool and gas, it can lead to pain in your stomach.

     3. Swelling/distention

This is the outward appearance of the pain and tightness you are already feeling. Your stomach may actually protrude and become swollen or distended.

     4. Bleeding

Hemorrhoids from bloating-causing constipation can contribute to blood in your stool. However, it could also be a sign of something more serious like cancer that needs to be monitored seriously for any changes or prolonged occurrence.

     5. Nausea

Nausea in conjunction with bloating can be caused by a bowel obstruction that is further contributing to your feelings of bloat.

     6. Fever

Bloating that accompanies a bloating is usually caused by inflammation or an infection in the digestive tract.

Causes of bloating

When we understand the various bloating causes, it is easier to come up with a plan of action to address what is really going on beneath the surface.

     1. Constipation

If you haven’t been going regularly, there’s a reason why you feel bloated. When your stool sits in your colon, bacteria continue to ferment whatever is there, leading to more bulk in your stool and gas that is unable to pass through.

     2. Gas

Gas happens, and when it does your gastrointestinal tract is responsible for moving it through so you can get it out through flatulation. However, sometimes your gastrointestinal tract lags behind and gas ends up building up in your intestines leading to bloat.

     3. Certain foods

Like most other aspects of health, problems can be caused by underlying food intolerances or hard-to-digest foods. FODMAP intolerance is one of the major contributors for people with chronic bloat.

FODMAP stands for Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols. In short: fermentable sugars. These short-chain sugars are contained in many different foods and are not fully digested in the gut, which can cause them to be excessively fermented by gut bacteria.

This fermentation releases hydrogen gas that could lead to distension of the intestines, which can cause bloating. Some foods that are high in FODMAPs are onions, cabbage, apples, and beans - a very common source of bloating in many individuals.

     4. Gut sensitivity/IBS

Certain gut dysfunctions such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) can be the cause of chronic gas and bloating. In a normal functioning gut, when you are not eating (during the night and in between meals), the migrating motor complex (MMC) pushes gut bacteria down into the large intestines, where most of it lives. 

However, sometimes this process can fail. In cases of decreased MMC function, bacteria meant to migrate grows up into the small intestines where it doesn’t belong. This wayward bacteria will eat what you eat, fermenting the food in the wrong area, causing gas, swelling, and SIBO. And when SIBO goes untreated for too long, it can lead to IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).

     5. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is when gluten - a type of protein found in most grains - triggers an immune response throughout the body. This can lead to inflammation in the digestive tract that contributes to bloating. In fact, studies have shown bloating to be one of the most common symptoms of celiac disease. (1)

     6. Hormones

Hormones act as chemical messengers throughout your body. When an imbalance occurs, it can throw off the delicate system of how your body functions and can lead to fluid retention, gut dysfunction, and ultimately bloating.

Bloating in women

Women tend to struggle with bloating more than men. This can be due to the hormonal fluctuations that happen throughout a women’s cycle. For example, women who struggle with premenstrual syndrome, also referred to as PMS, can contribute to increased water retention which fuels bloating.

This is most likely due to the fact that estrogen is responsible for fluid retention and when estrogen surges in the case of menopause, PMS, or chronic hormone imbalances, bloating is more likely to occur. 

How to prevent bloating

Thankfully, there are many ways to address bloating in your day-to-day life, naturally.

     1. Avoid certain foods

An elimination diet is a great tool to help you determine if a FODMAP intolerance or another food is contributing to your bloating. This is done by taking out certain foods that are most likely to trigger a reaction such as FODMAP fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, dairy, and grains for a period of time and then slowly reintroducing them back in.

     2. Add more probiotics to your diet

Like most other gut problems, bloating can be caused by an imbalance in the ratio of good and bad bacteria in the microbiome. A probiotic can rebalance the microbiome and help alleviate symptoms of bloat.

Some of the best natural sources of probiotics include sauerkraut, kimchi, and yogurt. Taking a high-quality probiotic supplement can also ensure that you are getting in enough probiotics on a daily basis.

     3. Eat slower

You swallow more air the faster you eat. By slowing down and taking your time to eat with no distractions (yes, working through lunch counts) you’ll avoid taking in more air and you’re less likely to overeat and contribute to added fullness and bloat.

When should I be worried about bloating?

Anything that is chronic should lead you to make changes. Only when you have symptoms of serious concern such as bleeding, nausea, and fever should you be concerned enough to seek medical attention immediately. However, if you are struggling with the pain and other symptoms of bloating on a regular basis, it is a sign that something needs to change.

It is my job to determine what is causing your bloating and make a plan to alleviate your symptoms through lab work, dietary, and lifestyle changes so you can finally enjoy meals and daily life again, pain-free.

As one of the first functional medicine telehealth clinics in the world, we provide webcam health consultations for people around the globe.

READ NEXT: What A Salt Water Flush Is + How It Can Benefit Your Health

  1. Zipser, Robert D et al. “Presentations of adult celiac disease in a nationwide patient support group.” Digestive diseases and sciences vol. 48,4 (2003): 761-4. doi:10.1023/a:1022897028030

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Dr. Will Cole, DNM, IFMCP, DC is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the globe, starting one of the first functional medicine telehealth centers in the world. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Dr. Will Cole provides a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art of Being Well podcast and the New York Times bestselling author of Intuitive Fasting, Ketotarian, Gut Feelings, and The Inflammation Spectrum.

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