Stomach bloating typically describes what happens when too much gas fills up the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. With no exit for expulsion, the tummy tends to stretch and swell. This may result in painful cramps that last for hours, diminishing a person’s overall quality of life.
Trapped wind is usually the main cause but more serious conditions can also contribute to bloating.
One that can have grave consequences if left untreated is intestinal pseudo-obstruction.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), intestinal pseudo-obstruction is a rare condition with symptoms that resemble those caused by a blockage, or obstruction, of the intestines, also called the bowel.
“However, when a health care provider examines the intestines, no blockage exists,” the NIDDK explains.
The symptoms are due to nerve or muscle problems that affect the movement of food, fluid, and air through the intestines, says the health body.
In addition to bloating and abdominal pain, other telltale signs of intestinal pseudo-obstruction include:
What are the risks?
“Affected individuals experience loss of appetite and impaired ability to absorb nutrients, which may lead to malnutrition,” warns Genetic Home Reference, an online resource for genetic conditions.
Malnutrition is a serious condition that happens when your diet does not contain the right amount of nutrients.
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How is it treated?
“A health care provider will treat intestinal pseudo-obstruction with nutritional support, medications, and, in some cases, decompression,” explains NIDDK.
According to the health body, in rare circumstances, a person will need surgery.
“If an illness, a medication, or both cause intestinal pseudo-obstruction, a health care provider will treat the underlying illness, stop the medication, or do both,” it says.
Other underlying causes of bloating
According to Harvard Health, any of these disorders can cause bloating:
- 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 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.
How quickly you become bloated and your age may spell something serious is up too.
“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,” said Dr Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.
According to the NHS, if your bloating symptoms persist, consult your GP to rule out a more serious condition.
“Bloating and a persistent feeling of fullness are key symptoms of ovarian cancer,” the health body warns.
In most cases, bloating can be remedied by eliminating gassy culprits from your diet.
The worst offenders are:
“Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, noting everything that you eat and drink and when bloating troubles you most,” advises the NHS.
It adds: “But do not get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP.”
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