Bloating is a condition where your belly feels full and tight like it’s full of gas, causing discomfort. Symptoms of bloating can include excessive gas, stomach pain or discomfort, feeling full even when eating small amounts, and stomach rumbling. The condition can last anywhere from 24 hours to a few days, depending on the cause.
Causes of Bloating
There are many reasons you might feel bloated, from minor to serious. If you experience bloating often, you can usually manage it once you know its cause.
- Gas: Some foods cause your gastrointestinal tract to produce more gas than others. They include high-sulfur vegetables like Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and broccoli. Swallowing air is another common cause.
- Large meals: Depending on when you eat, you could go many hours between meals, increasing your hunger and causing you to eat more than you need, which can lead you to produce more gas than usual.
- Menstruation: The changes in hormones during your period can cause bloating.
- Lack of fiber: If you do not get enough fiber, it could cause food to travel inefficiently through your digestive system.
- A sedentary lifestyle: Sitting for too long can cause the contents of your abdomen (including your intestinal tract) to compress, slowing digestion.
- Stress: When you’re stressed, your body slows down digestion, causing bloating, pain, and indigestion.
- Other medical issues: Bloating can be a symptom of a more serious condition, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Short-Term Care for Bloating
If you are wondering how to reduce bloating fast, here are some options you can try.
Increase Your Activity
If you are one of the 80% of Americans working a sedentary job, chances are you could use more movement throughout the day.
There are many benefits to exercising more, including reducing your risk of bloating. When you exercise, the motion increases blood flow to your digestive tract, massaging food along. A recent meta-analysis found that walking for just a few minutes after a meal can aid in digestion and prevent blood sugar spikes.
You do not have to become a gym rat to add more movement to your routine. Take a walk, go swimming, or engage in active play with your children. An increase in your activity could be enough to make your bloating go away.
Relax Your Body
If you feel tension in your mind and body, it could be causing you to feel bloated.
When you are able to relax, your gastrointestinal tract works better. When you carry a lot of stress, your autonomic nervous system easily enters a sympathetic state–also known as fight, flight, or freeze. In this condition, your body slows digestion. As you relax, the system returns to a parasympathetic state, allowing your food to more easily move along the digestive tract.
There are many ways to relax your mind and body, including taking a warm bath. The warm water can also relieve cramping, which helps you destress. Other ways to relax include having a good laugh, performing deep breathing exercises, reading your favorite book, listening to calming music, and spending time in nature.
Give Yourself an Abdominal Massage
If dietary changes do not help your bloating, try massaging your abdomen. Doing so can help move food along in your bowels, decreasing your discomfort.
Start on your right side near your pelvis and rub upwards in a circular motion until you reach your ribcage. Move in a straight line to your upper left side and move down to your left hip. Once, they go upward towards your belly button. Then, repeat the process for up to 10 minutes, always moving in a clockwise direction. Going counter-clockwise could make your problem worse.
Here are some tips to make your massage more effective:
- Use your fingertips to rub, not the palm of your hand.
- Incorporate massage oil to avoid friction and help you relax.
- Lay flat on your back on a comfortable surface throughout the massage. It will relax your abdominal muscles and give you good access to the entire area.
- After warming up your abdomen with the first pass, you can add a little more pressure with your fingertips until the massage ends.
- If you feel pain or tenderness in any area, stop. It could be a sign that you are harming yourself or that something more serious is going on.
Do the massage at least once a day to see if it reduces your bloating.
Try Over-the-Counter Remedies
There are many drugstore medications that could help relieve your gastrointestinal symptoms. They are typically how to reduce bloating overnight.
Medicines containing simethicone–like GasX–are effective at relieving bloating caused by gas. Pepto Bismol contains bismuth subsalicylate. The medicine reduces bloat caused by overindulging in food and lactase aids like Lactaid reduce bloating due to a dairy intolerance.
You can often find these medications in local pharmacies or grocery stores. Ask a pharmacist if you are unsure which one to try.
16 Reasons You May Feel Bloated—and What to Do About It
Long-Term Remedies for Bloating
Frequent bloating could mean you need a long-term solution. Here are changes you can make to reduce chronic bloat.
Avoid Foods That Cause A Lot of Gas
Gas is a common cause of bloating and can be easy to avoid with a change in diet. Try eliminating different greens to reduce bloating from vegetables. The same goes for fruits and grains.
You can try a low-FODMAP diet. It reduces the amount of fermentable foods as well as those with oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols you eat. It is an elimination diet to determine which foods cause your bloating so you know what to avoid to prevent it. The following are examples of foods eliminated throughout the diet.
- Fermentable foods: Pickles, kefir, kombucha, miso, sourdough bread, natto, and cheese.
- Oligosaccharides: Wheat, garlic, legumes, and onions.
- Disaccharides: Milk, yogurt, and ice cream.
- Polyols: Nectarines, plums, cauliflower apricots, and most sugar-free candies.
When you discover which foods cause your bloating, you can avoid them to reduce it.
Another option is to avoid foods and beverages that cause excess air to gather in your stomach and intestines. Chewing gum, drinking soda, and sparkling water all encourage air to enter your gastrointestinal tract. It can also happen when you drink through a straw. As air travels through the system, it causes gas and bloating.
Eat Smaller Meals Throughout the Day
A large meal is often the culprit of bloating. You might think that three meals a day is best and you would not be the only one. For years, research indicated that eating three moderately-sized meals was the best way to go. However, recent research indicates that this likely is not the case.
By eating four or five smaller meals, you can stay satisfied and avoid overeating. These effects can lead to more stable blood sugars, weight loss, and more consistent energy throughout the day.
By incorporating complex carbs, protein, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables, you can get all the nutrients you need throughout the day without feeling bloated.
Increase Your Fiber Intake
Constipation is a common cause of bloating and increasing the amount of fiber you eat can help relieve it.
Fiber is a carbohydrate that serves as a tool for your body to digest foods. There are two types of fiber and both have positive health impacts.
- Soluble Fiber: dissolves in water and helps regulate your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Insoluble Fiber: does not dissolve and helps move food along your digestive tract, reducing constipation and bloating.
While soluble fiber can help you feel less hungry, insoluble fiber can help with the bloating caused by constipation.
Foods with soluble fiber include black beans, lima beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, avocados, sweet potatoes, turnips, pears, figs, apricots, apples, and carrots.
The Best Foods High in Fiber
Cut Down on Sodium
Adults need fewer than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. That’s the equivalent of around one teaspoon of table salt. However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that the average American consumes more than 3,400.
If you feel bloated a lot, it could be because your sodium intake is too high. It is easy to eat too much sodium because it is abundant in ultra-processed food. Both fast food and packaged grocery store foods tend to contain a lot of it. Grains and meats are the largest culprits but soups, crackers, salad dressing and more can also contribute to increased sodium levels.
Salt causes your body to retain water which is a cause of bloating. By watching the amount of sodium you take in, the bloating should gradually decrease.
When you smoke, you take in much more air than the average person. As you breathe in from a cigarette or vape pen, the air can travel into your digestive tract, causing you to bloat.
Trying to quit smoking overnight can lead to dangerous side effects so take it slow. Speak with your healthcare provider or an addiction specialist who can help you safely wean off of nicotine and get you out of the habit of reaching for it.
Quitting nicotine can also increase your appetite, providing more opportunities to take in fiber which can also reduce your bloating.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
Occasionally, bloating could mean that something more serious is going on in your body. It is a symptom of many health conditions.
Your bloating combined with other symptoms could be a sign of IBS, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal blockage, endometriosis, gastritis, ascites, cancer, and pancreatic insufficiencies.
It is unlikely for bloating to lead to one of these health conditions, but it is important to be aware of them so you know to visit your healthcare provider if something seems off. For many of these conditions, prompt treatment is the key to a positive outcome.
You should see your healthcare provider if you experience the following:
- You have bloating so severe it impacts your ability to perform everyday activities.
- You experience vomiting or diarrhea.
- There is blood in your stool.
- You experience chronic heartburn.
- You lose weight without trying.
These could be signs that something serious is going on that you can not fix by yourself.
A Quick Review
Bloating is a condition that makes your abdomen feel too full or stretched out. There are many causes, ranging from minor to severe. By experimenting with different short-term and long-term remedies, you can help your body avoid bloat. If other concerning symptoms arise, consult with your healthcare provider.