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Why do I feel bloated after eating?

03 May 2020 in Health

It’s not unusual to feel bloated after eating a meal. This is when your tummy feels swollen or tight, causing you to feel pain or discomfort.

Bloating affects 10 to 30% of the adult population, according to the World Gastroenterology Organisation.

But what you eat isn’t always the cause. Certain foods can bring on these symptoms, but bloating is also linked to habits like eating too fast or chewing a lot of gum.

In rare cases, bloating can be a sign of a more serious medical condition like inflammatory bowel disease or ovarian cancer.

So what’s the most likely cause of a swollen tummy after eating?

Common causes of bloating

Swallowing too much air

It’s natural to swallow a small amount of air when you eat, but certain habits can make you swallow more air than normal.

Studies show that eating or drinking too quickly, chewing gum or smoking can make you swallow larger amounts of air, and some people swallow air when they feel anxious or stressed.

Most of this air will be released through burping, but some of it may pass into your digestive system, leaving your tummy feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

If you think your bloating is due to swallowing too much air, try to eat and drink more slowly, and cut down on cigarettes if you smoke.

Feeling bloated - eating too fast

Lying down after eating

Your posture can affect the way that gas builds up in your digestive system.

Sitting with your back straight helps to push air up the oesophagus and out of the mouth, but lying down can encourage air (and other gasses) to pass down into the small intestine, and this can make you feel uncomfortable.

If you think this is the cause, try to sit up for a while after eating rather than lying down on the sofa, for example.

Eating gas-releasing foods

Some foods release a lot of gas when they’re digested. This gas is usually harmless, but it can cause discomfort in your tummy.

Here is a more complete list of the foods, drinks and products that can cause gas and bloating.

Foods Drinks Other products
asparagus apple juice sorbitol (found in chewing gum)
artichokes pear juice mannitol (found in sweets)
black beans fizzy drinks xylitol
broccoli milk
mushrooms sugary fruit drinks
cabbage
cauliflower
kidney beans
onions
apples
peaches
pears
cheese and yoghurt
wholewheat
bran

If you feel bloated and think this may be caused by what you’re eating, try to reduce your intake of these foods but don’t cut them out altogether without first checking with a doctor or dietitian.

Remember that fruit, vegetables, wholegrain foods and pulses (beans) are an important part of a balanced and healthy diet.

Bloating and food intolerances

Bloating is a symptom of food intolerance. You can be intolerant to a range of different foods and substances, but some of the most common include:

  • dairy produce (for example, milk and cheese)
  • wheat
  • caffeine
  • alcohol
  • artificial colourings, sweeteners or flavourings

If you think you may have a food intolerance, try to keep a food diary for 1 to 2 weeks. Note down everything you eat, and keep a record of any symptoms.

If you notice a trend between the food you eat and symptoms like bloating, visit a doctor so they can help you make the necessary changes to your diet.

Causes of bloating - food intolerance

When should you be concerned about bloating?

Bloating can be a symptom of more serious medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Persistent or chronic bloating can also be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer.

If bloating persists or you’re worried at all, always see a doctor.


References:

World Gastroenterology Organisation [Internet]. Worldgastroenterology.org. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Knott D. Trapped Wind (Gas & Bloating) Symptoms, causes and treatment [Internet]. Patient.info. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

UpToDate [Internet]. Uptodate.com. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Aerophagia Causes and Resolutions - Sleep Apnea [Internet]. Sleep Apnea. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Beat the bloat [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

S3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Information H, Diseases D, Tract G, Causes S, Tract S, Center T et al. Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract | NIDDK [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Eat well [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Food intolerance [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2020 [cited 13 March 2020]. Available here.

Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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