What Is Chronic Abdominal Bloating?
Chronic abdominal bloating can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life, causing discomfort, embarrassment, and social withdrawal.
Chronic bloating is a common gastrointestinal symptom characterized by a feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen, accompanied by distension and increased gas production.
While bloating can occur occasionally in response to a specific meal or dietary indiscretion, chronic bloating is defined as persistent symptoms for more than three months, often with no identifiable cause.
It can also be a challenging symptom to diagnose and manage, as there are many potential underlying causes, including functional gastrointestinal disorders, food intolerances, and underlying medical conditions.
One potential cause of chronic bloating is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a functional gastrointestinal disorder characterized by abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, and altered bowel habits.
Studies have shown that up to 90% of individuals with IBS experience bloating, making it a common symptom of this condition (1). Other potential causes of chronic bloating include small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), celiac disease, lactose intolerance, and gastroparesis, among others (2).
Diagnosing the underlying cause of chronic bloating can be challenging, as there are no definitive tests or biomarkers that can identify all potential causes. Typically, diagnosis involves a thorough medical history, physical exam, and various tests, such as blood tests, stool tests, breath tests, and imaging studies, to rule out underlying medical conditions and identify potential triggers.
Once a diagnosis is made, treatment for chronic bloating often involves dietary and lifestyle modifications, as well as medication, depending on the underlying cause. For example, individuals with IBS may benefit from a low-FODMAP diet, which restricts certain carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the small intestine and can contribute to gas production and bloating (3). Individuals with SIBO may benefit from antibiotics, while those with lactose intolerance may benefit from avoiding dairy products.
In addition to these interventions, there are several complementary and alternative therapies that may be beneficial for chronic bloating. For example, acupuncture has been shown to improve symptoms of bloating and abdominal discomfort in individuals with IBS (4), while probiotics may improve symptoms of bloating in individuals with SIBO (5).
Chronic abdominal bloating is a common gastrointestinal symptom that can have a significant impact on an individual's quality of life.
While there are many potential underlying causes, diagnosis and treatment often involve a multidisciplinary approach, including dietary and lifestyle modifications, medication, and complementary therapies.
Chang FY, Lu CL, Chen CY, et al. The overlapping gastroesophageal reflux disease, functional dyspepsia, and irritable bowel syndrome: a prevalence study using the Rome II criteria. Digestion. 2006;73(3-4):101-106.
Staudacher HM, Whelan K. The low FODMAP diet: recent advances in understanding its mechanisms and efficacy in IBS. Gut. 2017;66(8):1517-1527.
Schmulson MJ, Drossman DA. What Is New in Rome IV. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2017;23(2):151-163.
Lim B, Manheimer E, Lao L, et al. Acupuncture for treatment of irritable bowel syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;(4):CD005111.