8 Normal Reasons Your Belly Is Bloated (and 4 Times to Worry)

Why is your stomach suddenly puffy? A bloated belly is often related to diet, but sometimes more serious conditions could be a factor.

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You OD on veggies

You OD on veggiesiStock/bhofack2
If your belly feels a littler bigger than usual, don’t freak. “Unless it’s associated with weight loss, nausea, or vomiting, bloating is very common and usually not worrisome,” says Robert Burakoff, MD, clinical chief of gastroenterology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital. It’s often nutritious foods that could be the culprit of a little extra air in your tummy. Chowing down on beans, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, apricots, or carrots can lead to bloat, says Gina Sam, MD, director of the Gastrointestinal Motility Center at Mount Sinai Hospital. So can foods high in lactose, dairy’s main sugar, and foods high in fiber, which can lead to the release of bloating gases hydrogen and methane, says Dr. Burakoff. These are the 7 worst foods for your belly.

You eat a lot of ‘diet’ foods

You eat a lot of ‘diet’ foodsiStock/sfe-co2
You’ll find the sugar substitute sorbitol in diet soda as well as in certain sugar-free foods and drinks and certain foods marketed as “diabetic.” Snack on this stuff enough, though, and you’ll notice your pants tighten up, says Dr. Sam. Even the sweetener Splenda’s website states “sugar alcohols (such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, and maltitol) are sometimes a cause of bloating and diarrhea if too much is eaten.” Your best bet is to cut back on the sweet stuff, fake or not—even real sugar can puff you up, says Dr. Sam.

Your beverage of choice is bubbly

Your beverage of choice is bubblyiStock/AzmanL
Champagne, soda, and seltzer water might seem like three very different drinks, but the carbonation in a bubbly beverage has the same effect on your stomach. Bubbles expand in your gut and could lead to a slightly bulging belly, says Dr. Sam. Stick to straight water if you’re feeling bloated. These 10 recipes perk up plain water.

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You eat fruit smoothies all the time

You eat fruit smoothies all the timeiStock/GMVozd
Sweet, refreshing, thirst-quenching—and bloating? Certain fruits, like watermelon, apples, pears, and mangoes, have a high ratio of fructose to glucose (both sugars occur naturally in fruit). This can cause gas and bloating in the estimated one in three people who has difficulty digesting fructose. If this is you, stick to fruits with a more balanced fructose-to-glucose ratio, such as bananas and blueberries. Try one of these fruit smoothies for a healthy breakfast.

You're constipated

You're constipatediStock/grinvalds
If you’re all backed up down there, your gas likely is, too—which could leave your belly feeling heavy, says Dr. Sam. Check your diet, make sure you’re hydrated, and keep up with workouts—but if you feel any abdominal pain, make an appointment with your doc to make sure something else like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn’t at play. Try one of these home remedies for constipation to feel better fast.

You're on vacation

You're on vacationiStock/BraunS
Almost 50 percent of people become constipated when they travel, says Connecticut gastroenterologist Ed Levine, MD. Prevent vacation constipation by sticking to your bedtime and mealtime routines as much as possible. Changes in your circadian rhythm throw off the hormones that help food and waste move through your gut. These are other surprising reasons you might be constipated.

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You're on a major work deadline

You're on a major work deadlineiStock/South_agency
“When you experience fight-or-flight symptoms, like a racing heart, your body diverts blood flow away from your GI tract, which slows down digestion,” says Dr. Levine. Heavy breathing, which occurs when you’re under stress, makes you swallow more air than usual and can also lead to bloating. To feel better, simply change your breathing pattern so you exhale for a few counts longer than you inhale. This turns off the stress response and moves your body into a calmer state.

You've been skipping exercising

You've been skipping exercisingiStock/PeopleImages
The last thing you may want to do on a “fat day” is lace up your sneakers and squeeze into workout clothes. But physical activity stimulates the muscles of your digestive tract, which helps move through your GI tract the food and air bubbles that make you feel bloated. In one small German study, people who took a post-dinner stroll significantly sped up the time it took their body to digest their meal.

You just battled a stomach bug

You just battled a stomach bug iStock/KatarzynaBialasiewicz
About 25 percent of patients who get gastroenteritis, a stomach infection, have bloating even after the illness clears. A likely suspect: small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In SIBO patients, abnormal levels of microbes colonize the small intestine, which can lead to gas and bloating, says Henry Lin, MD, chief of gastroenterology at the New Mexico VA Health Care System. Gastroenteritis can disrupt your defense mechanisms that normally keep bacteria out of the small intestine, leading to SIBO. It is typically diagnosed with a breath test and can be treated with antibiotics or other approaches.

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You might have IBS

You might have IBSiStock/g-stockstudio
Bloating is one of the most common symptoms of IBS—a disorder that’s characterized by stomach pain and a change in your bowel habits (usually diarrhea, constipation, or both), according to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. It affects between 10 and 15 percent of the population. If you notice these symptoms, see your physician—treatments range from lifestyle changes to medications. Here are 7 common stomach pains and what they mean.

You could have Crohn's disease

You could have Crohn's diseaseiStock/Squaredpixels
If you’re dropping weight, feel nauseous, are vomiting, have a fever, and are bloated, doctors may worry about Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease, says Dr. Burakoff. The condition can be mild or severe—it’s best to check in with your physician if you’re noticing a slew of symptoms in addition to bloating.

In rare cases, bloating can be a sign of cancer

In rare cases, bloating can be a sign of canceriStock/PeopleImages
While bloating is likely related to something completely normal and treatable, when accompanied by symptoms like blood in the stool or weight loss, experts do consider more serious diseases like pancreatic, ovarian, or stomach cancer, says Dr. Sam. But before you let your mind wander (and end up in a WebMD panic attack), consider your lifestyle and make a real-life appointment to play things safe. Let a doctor—not a website—make that decision for you. These are 15 cancer symptoms women are likely to ignore.

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