Nov. 21, 2022 Nearly 1 in 7 U.S. adults go through bloating, yet few seek help for it, with many saying they’re uncomfortable talking about the problem with their doctor, according to the results of a new survey. 

Bloating – a buildup of gas in the stomach and intestines – may be caused by drinking carbonated beverages, eating a large meal, menstruation, constipation, or gas. It can also stem from a condition like inflammatory bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

But it's unclear exactly how many adults are bothered by bloating. Among nearly 89,000 adults who weighed in on the topic in an online survey, more than 12,000, (about 1 in 7) reported bloating in the past week.

Women and those with other conditions, especially IBS, chronic constipation, and ulcerative colitis, were most likely to report bloating.

Adults with other related stomach issues, especially belly pain and excess gas, were also more likely to report bloating. 

Bloating got more severe with age, up to 59 years, and then got less severe in people 60 and older. Things linked to more severe bloating included having IBS, IBD, celiac disease, bowel incontinence, belly pain, constipation, and excess gas.

Suffering in Silence?

Notably, more than half of people who reported recent bloating never sought care for the problem. About a third of them reported that bloating resolved on its own, while 30% said the symptoms weren’t bothersome.

About 1 in 5 adults who did not seek care said they managed their symptoms on their own with over-the-counter medications or changes in their lifestyle. 

Nearly 1 in 10 said they were uncomfortable discussing the problem with their doctor.

“The hesitancy in seeking health care or discussing bloating in patients may be attributed to lack of routine screening for bloating, lack of focus on bloating complaints by providers, or patients’ dissatisfaction with management of bloating symptoms,” says Janice Oh, MD, with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (She and her colleagues did the survey.)

They encourage doctors to routinely ask their patients about bloating as a first step in providing the right management. 

“Bloating is common because it usually has multifactorial causes and can also be a secondary symptom to another gastrointestinal symptom or condition,” Oh says. “Its mechanisms are complex and individualized, making it difficult for providers to identify and treat each patient. Thus, many adults may be persistently suffering without proper diagnosis or management."

She notes that bloating can be linked to nutrition and diet, gut microbiome, anatomical issues, or conditions that range from neurologic to gynecologic disorders.

Because bloating can harm a person's daily quality of life, “it's important to discuss the symptoms with a health care provider,” Oh advises. 

Typically, changes in diet are the first line of treatment for preventing gas and bloating. But in the long run, the key to preventing bloating is pinpointing the cause.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology: "Abdominal Bloating in the US: Results of a Survey of 88,795 Americans Examining Prevalence and Healthcare Seeking."

Janice Oh, MD, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles.

 

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