Why Does My Stomach Growl?

From the WebMD Archives

By Serusha Govender

The Rumor: Your stomach growls to let you know you're hungry

It's a sound you know all too well: that gurgling, grumbling growl deep in the pit of your stomach that tells you it's time for lunch. (Either that, or you've swallowed a baby bear.) Sometimes, a faint rumbling starts when you get close to mealtime, or when you smell something delicious. Other times, it sounds like a full-on roar, which can be extra embarrassing if it happens when you're sitting in the middle of quiet office. But you can usually silence the noise by grabbing a snack. Problem solved!

Occasionally, though, your tummy will suddenly release an inexplicable thundering growl when you're not hungry at all -- which can leave you feeling a little confused. Isn't a growling stomach supposed to be a kind of gurgling dinner-bell that tells you it's time to eat?

The Verdict: A so-called growling stomach is more likely a sign that your intestines are full of hot air

Doctors actually have a name for that grumbling sound that comes from your innards: It's call "borborygmi" (pronounced BOR-boh-RIG-me), and the truth is, it doesn't come from your stomach at all.

"Usually that noise is excessive gas moving back and forth in the intestines," says gastroenterologist Laurence Bailen, MD, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts. ""It's not really clear why [your belly] growls when you haven't eaten in a long time. It can possibly mean that you're getting low blood sugar and your intestines can't get enough nutrients from your blood. So it's telling you to get some food." Putting food into your system often quiets the noise, because the food takes up space and your digestive muscles become more focused on breaking down and absorbing the food than on moving the air around.

How is all that air getting into your digestive tract in the first place? "People swallow a lot of [it]," says Bailen. "It happens if you eat too fast, if you're talking and eating at the same time, and when you keep drinking fluids while you're exercising." Really, you swallow air anytime you combine eating or drinking with any other activity (so apparently your mother knew what she was talking about when she told you to chew with your mouth shut, and not to talk with food in your mouth).

Excess air can also result if your gut starts producing too much gas from improperly absorbed food. If you add swallowed air to the gas being produced in your gut, your gassy problems increase substantially.

If you feel like your noisy gut is garnering a lot of unwanted attention, there are ways you can put a muzzle on it. First off, Bailen recommends slowing down while eating. Chew and swallow each mouthful completely before opening your mouth for another bite. You can also try drinking with a straw, which can limit the amount of air you gulp down with each swallow. And finally, try not to over-hydrate while you're exercising. All that heavy breathing -- coupled with the air you gulp down with every sip of water -- could kickstart the king of all borborygmi parties.

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