COPD Bloating: Why It Happens and What You Can Do

If you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you've likely talked with your doctor about how to manage common symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. But you may not know that some people with this condition may also get stomach problems like too much gas and bloating.

Your stomach might feel tight or stick out, which can be very uncomfortable. It can also make it more difficult for you to eat and get the nutrition that you need.

One study found that about 85% of people with COPD had at least one digestive system problem. Bloating of the belly and feeling full very quickly after starting to eat were the most common ones that people said they had. Researchers say it seems to happen much more often in women than in men.

Possible Causes

Bloating may be caused by a number of issues, including irritable bowel syndrome and anxiety, and some people may have these conditions in addition to COPD.

Experts know that about 10%-15% of people with COPD also have sleep apnea, a condition that causes you to stop breathing for several seconds at a time while you're asleep. One treatment for sleep apnea, called CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), is well-known for causing bloating and gas pains because air pushed in from the device can end up in your stomach.

Another cause of bloating is related to how you swallow. If you have a lung disorder like COPD, you might find that you often swallow while you breathe in. As a result, you gulp too much air.

Some people with COPD get hyperinflated (overinflated) lungs because too much air gets trapped in them. When that happens, it changes how the muscles that play a role in breathing work. This can have an impact on your rib cage and belly. It might cause pressure in your belly to go up.

What You Can Do

If you have bloating, there are several things you can try. For starters, pay attention to your diet. Avoid carbonated drinks and fried foods.

Also stay away from fruits and vegetables that are well-known for being gassy, like beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.

Another tip: eat slowly and save liquids for after you've finished eating your food.

Exercise is also a good idea. Mild physical activity may help you pass trapped gas so you feel more comfortable.

If you want to try medication, simethicone (Gas-X) is a good option. It breaks up gas bubbles so you can pass them more easily.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on June 25, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Journal of Gastroenterology: "Physical Activity and Intestinal Gas Clearance in Patients With Bloating."

American Lung Association: "COPD Symptoms."

American Sleep Apnea Association: "Aerophagia Causes and Resolutions."

Chest Journal: "GI Symptoms in Patients With COPD."

Cleveland Clinic: "Nutritional Guidelines for People With COPD."

European Respiratory Journal: "Effect of Hyperinflation on the Diaphragm."

Respiratory Care: "Supplemental Oxygen Needs During Sleep. Who Benefits?"

Respirology: "Impaired Swallow in COPD."

Robert Wise, MD, professor of medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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