Stomach bloating often rears its ugly head after eating gassy foods, such as broccoli and onions. These foods can cause wind to build up in your gastrointestinal tract (GI) – a series of hollow organs joined in a long, twisting tube from the mouth to the anus. With no exit, wind tends to seek refuge in your tummy.
The result? The tummy often inflates and this uncomfortable sensation can be accompanied by painful cramps.
Simply eliminating gassy foods from your diet may help to reduce the frequency of bloating.
If the problem persists, however, your body may be telling you something serious is up.
One serious underlying cause of tummy swelling is heart failure.
“Heart failure means that the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly,” explains the NHS.
It usually occurs because the heart has become too weak or stiff, says the health body.
The faulty mechanism that causes bloating is a buildup of excess fluid in body tissues.
The American Heart Association (AHA) explains: “As blood flow out of the heart slows, blood returning to the heart through the veins backs up, causing fluid to build up in the tissues.”
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As the AHA explains, the kidneys are less able to dispose of sodium and water, also causing fluid retention in the tissues.
A telltale sign your bloating is a result of heart failure is swelling in other regions too.
According to the AHA, heart failure can cause swelling in the feet, ankles, legs.
How to respond
“See your GP if you experience persistent or gradually worsening symptoms of heart failure,” advises the NHS.
As the health body points out, the symptoms can be caused by other, less serious conditions, so it’s a good idea to get them checked out.
What else could be causing your bloat?
According to Harvard Health, other underlying triggers of bloating include:
- Irritable bowel syndrome – a condition characterised by a combination of symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or constipation) that last for three or more months.
- Inflammatory bowel disease – an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Celiac disease – an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It’s triggered by a protein called gluten that’s found in wheat, barley, and rye.
- Constipation – a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation.
- Gastroparesis – a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.
- Cancer – colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer are among the cancers that can have bloating as a symptom.
According to Dr. Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital, “sudden bloating” can spell something serious is up.
He explained: “Most people who have bloating start experiencing it at a young age.
“But if someone is suddenly having bloating in older age, that’s sometimes a red flag that tells me something has changed and needs to be investigated.”
What causes sudden bloating? The symptom could be an inflammatory bowel condition, constipation, lactose intolerance, celiac disease, or (in rare cases) cancer.
According to Harvard Health, if sudden bloating lasts more than a few days, report the symptom to your doctor or gastroenterologist.
If you have been feeling bloated for more than 12 times a month, you should also see your GP.
As the NHS warns, persistent bloating of this nature is a main symptom of ovarian cancer.
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