LOS ANGELES — Nearly one in seven Americans experience bloating on a weekly basis, and a new study explains how it could be a sign of a bigger issue. Moreover, researchers from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center say most don’t seek professional care for bloating — even though many people are likely waking up with an upset stomach after Thanksgiving.
“Although bloating is a common symptom, some patients may not bring it up with their doctors,” says Janice Oh, MD, a resident physician within the Division of General Internal Medicine Division at Cedars-Sinai, in a media release. “It’s important that people feel comfortable discussing bloating because it could be a symptom of a serious condition and there are treatments available.”
What is bloating?
Bloating can be the result of several generally harmless things, from drinking carbonated beverages and overeating, to conditions such as menstruation, constipation, or gas. People who experience bloating can feel swollen or tight in the abdomen. Patients may also feel a rumbling, hear their stomach making noises, or pass gas more often.
It may also occur when a person’s gastrointestinal tract fills with air or gas. However, it can sometimes be the result of a more serious underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, carbohydrate enzyme deficiency, or chronic constipation.
To understand just how many Americans deal with bloating, study authors conducted an email survey of more than 88,000 people between May and June 2020. Just under 14 percent of these respondents reported bloating within the past seven days.
“To our knowledge, this is among the largest studies of bloating in the U.S.,” says senior author Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai. “Anecdotally, we often hear about bloating in the clinic, but this study adds concrete evidence to describe how commonly it occurs and what other conditions it’s associated with.”
6 in 10 have never gone to a doctor for bloating
Of the respondents who reported regularly experiencing bloating, over 58 percent say they’ve never asked a doctor about this problem. One in three say the issue resolved on its own, and just under 30 percent say the symptoms didn’t bother them significantly.
One in five managed their bloating with over-the-counter medications or by adjusting their lifestyle or diet. However, another 10 percent say they couldn’t see a doctor because they don’t have health insurance and nine percent claim they didn’t have time to visit a physician.
There even appears to be a stigma surrounding bloating, as 8.5 percent say they avoid seeking treatment because it’s uncomfortable for them to discuss their bloating with a doctor. Overall, women are twice as likely to report symptoms of bloating.
“Other studies have also found that women report more bloating than men, and researchers have proposed various hypotheses for why this may be occurring,” Oh explains. “These include hormonal, metabolic, psychosocial, lifestyle and dietary differences between men and women.”
Latinos and older Americans (over age 60) are also more likely to deal with bloating on a weekly basis. Those with irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation, and ulcerative colitis are also more likely to have abdominal swelling.
“Bloating can often be managed effectively with various medications, such as gut-directed antibiotics or treatments that affect serotonin levels in the gut. There is also evidence that lifestyle changes can help, including exercise, such as core strengthening, as well as dietary changes, but it requires discussion with a healthcare provider about what might be causing the bloating,” Oh concludes.
The findings appear in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
The researchers received funding for the study from Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.