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Abdominal Bloating: Potential Sign of a Severe Health Issue

Abdominal Bloating: Potential Sign of a Severe Health Issue

Abdominal bloating is one of the most common symptoms people experience throughout their lives. A correct diagnosis can mean better chances of survival and improved quality of life.

abdominal bloating

Close up of body woman suffering from abdominal bloating or acid reflux or heartburn, gas, bloating, belching, and flatulence or gastrointestinal system disease. Shutterstock Images

What is Abdominal bloating?

Abdominal bloating is one of the most common symptoms people experience throughout their lives.

It is often associated with gastrointestinal disorders but it can also appear as an individual manifestation.

People who experience bloating might also complain of nausea, vomiting, flatulence or intestinal issues such as constipation or diarrhea.

In addressing abdominal bloating, one must identify the underlying cause and suggest an appropriate treatment.

To make a diagnosis, the doctor might perform a physical examination, gather a medical history, and order a series of tests.

Benign bloating, a condition that is not dangerous

There are a lot of people who experience what is known as benign bloating. This is often caused by a diet that contains fermenting or gas-producing foods such as garlic, dairy or legumes.

According to a study published in the Gastroenterology & Hepatology Journal, medication and genetics might favor such manifestations, but the important thing to remember is that there are no long term health complications.[1]

Bloating is a frequent manifestation in those who eat too fast or consume too much alcohol. It does not lead to life-threatening complications, but it can cause discomfort as a result of too much gas accumulating in the stomach.

As mentioned above, one might also present with constipation or diarrhea.

When there are no other health issues present, bloating is a symptom that can be remedied through diet and lifestyle changes.

As for prevention, the doctor will probably recommend abstaining from trigger foods.

When is bloating a sign of severe health issues?

There are situations in which abdominal bloating can be a sign that a severe health issue has occurred.

As you will read below, one might suffer from cancer, thyroid disorders or other medical conditions.

In making the diagnosis, the doctor will analyze the presence of other symptoms, such as loss of appetite, excess fatigue or joint pain.

No appetite & bloating

The sudden loss of appetite, as well as the presence of abdominal bloating, might be an indication that you are suffering from a form of cancer.

According to a research published in JAMA, this particular combination of symptoms is often identified in those who have ovarian cancer.[2]

Some people might experience a faster satiety sensation, despite having eaten a reduced quantity of food. This can also be a sign of cancer, especially of the stomach.

One should not hesitate to go to the doctor as soon as such manifestations have become obvious.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease is an autoimmune condition, in which gluten intolerance presents a number of specific symptoms.

According to a study published in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, abdominal bloating is a common manifestation of this condition, as is a permanent state of fatigue and brittle nails.[3]

People who suffer from this condition might suffer from vitamin or mineral deficiencies, as they are unable to absorb such substances from their food.

Iron deficiency, for example, is frequently-encountered in such cases, leading to brittle nails, exhaustion, chest pain and circulation problems (hands and feet are always cold).

The first thing to do is look at your diet, and make sure it includes plenty of foods rich in iron (such as red meat).

If you have this covered but you are still suffering from anemia, you might want to go to the doctor.

The presence of abdominal bloating, in combination with nutritional deficiencies, can suggest celiac disease as a diagnosis.

Thyroid disease

Abdominal bloating is one of the manifestations that might be indicative of thyroid disease, especially if it is accompanied with being tired all the time.

Research has confirmed a clear connection between the thyroid gland and the gut. Whether your thyroid fails to produce enough hormones (hypothyroidism) or there is an over-production (hyperthyroidism), the hormonal imbalance can lead to serious health issues.[4]

If you suspect a thyroid disorder, you should not hesitate to visit an endocrinologist, particularly if you have a genetic predisposition.

The specialist can test your hormone levels and recommend a treatment to block the hormone over-production.

Alternatively, he/she can prescribe hormone therapy to help with the symptoms.

Weight loss & bloating

Rapid weight loss is never a good sign. And in combination with abdominal bloating, it might be suggestive of a tumor.

According to an article published by the American Cancer Society, such changes can be an indication of cancer.

If you are losing weight without intention and experiencing abdominal symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with a specialist.[5]

A number of cancers can be associated with extreme weight loss, which occurs over a short period of time, including pancreatic, colon, lung or ovarian malignant tumors. However, such manifestations can be indicative of other health issues, such as diabetes, liver disease or hyperthyroidism.

Diarrhea & bloating

The presence of diarrhea, in association with abdominal bloating, can be suggestive of a fiber-poor diet. Fiber is necessary, as it adds bulk to the stool and promotes a healthy intestinal transit.

In the case of persistent diarrhea and bloating, you might be suffering from a nutritional deficiency or pancreatic insufficiency. In the latter case, the pancreas fails to produce enough enzymes, meaning that food cannot be properly digested.

According to the latest research, this is known as exocrine pancreatic insufficiency.[6]

If you have been diagnosed with pancreatic insufficiency, you might be prescribed replacement therapy for the missing enzymes. The doctor will also probably recommend nutritional supplements and diet changes to provide more nutrients, especially fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K).

Painful joints & bloating

Research confirms the irritable bowel syndrome to be one of the most common intestinal complaints, leading to bloating among other symptoms. it can affect people of different ages and it is often accompanied by joint pain (in 25% of the people diagnosed with this condition).[7]

More serious than IBS is irritable bowel disease (IBD) which is also associated with gas and bloating. Ulcerative colitis is a form of IBD with many side effects including joint pain. The pain can be present in both major and minor joints, including the knees and ankles, elbows, wrists, and arms. It is caused by inflammatory processes and it requires medication to subside.

One will also recommend the treatment of the underlying cause, meaning the ulcerative colitis. The standard choices include anti-inflammatory medication and immune suppressants.

In more severe cases, it might be necessary to remove a part of the colon. After the surgical intervention, the patient might require a colostomy bag.

Chronic constipation

Chronic constipation is a common complaint, especially in older people or in those who have a fiber-poor diet; studies have confirmed the connection between one’s diet and chronic constipation. This condition is defined by a reduced number of bowel movements – less than three per week, with the stool being either hard or dry.

Straining is often necessary and one might feel like the elimination was not complete.[8]

Abdominal bloating is one of the symptoms associated with chronic constipation. This is because the bowels are not emptied, which means that the abdominal cavity is full and excess bloating occurs as a result. Chronic constipation must be addressed, as it may be a symptom of a serious disease like colon cancer.

Acne breakouts & bloating

Acne breakouts can be quite severe, presenting an increased risk of cysts, comedones, and nodules. Studies have confirmed that the imbalance of the gut microflora is often responsible for such manifestations, with abdominal bloating and inflammation being involved in the process.[9]

Acne can occur when the harmful bacteria multiply in the gut, which in turn will lead to intestinal inflammation. If one has a leaky gut, the intestinal barrier is damaged, and the toxins resulting from bacteria can traverse to other parts of the body, such as the skin.

Aside from addressing the actual acne breakouts and lesions, one might also want to visit a specialized physician to heal the gut. Probiotic supplements might be able to help.

Final words

If you frequently complain of abdominal bloating and present any of the other above-mentioned symptoms, you should seek the advice of a doctor. Early detection offers more effective disease management and a better chance of survival when life-threatening.

In the situation that there are no other health issues, you’re likely experiencing benign bloating.

In order to get rid of the abdominal discomfort, Health Insiders expert suggest you change the following things:

  • try changing your diet
  • eating fresh fruits and vegetables
  • drinking plenty of water
  • avoiding the foods that produce gas

Regular check-ups to the doctor will ensure that there are no other health issues about which to worry.

Feedback:

9 sources

(1) Brian E. Lacy, PhD, MD, Scott L. Gabbard, MD, and Michael D. Crowell, PhD, AGAF (2011). Pathophysiology, Evaluation and Treatment of Bloating. Gastroenterology & Hepatology. The Independent Peer-Reviewed Journal. 7(11): 729-739. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3264926/
(2) Barbara A. Goff, MD; Lynn S. Mandel, PhD; Cindy H. Melancon, RN; et al. (2004). Frequency of Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer in Women Presenting to Primary Care Clinics. JAMA. 291(22): 2705-2712. Retrieved online at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/198893
(3) Naiyana Gujral, Hugh J. Freeman, Alan BR Thomson (2012). Celiac disease: Prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment. World Journal of Gastroenterology. 18(42)> 6036-6059. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3496881/
(4) Ebert EC (2010). The thyroid and the gut. Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology, 44(6): 402-6. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20351569
(5) The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Signs and Symptoms of Gastrointestinal Carcinoid Tumors. Retrieved online at https://www.cancer.org/cancer/gastrointestinal-carcinoid-tumor/detection-diagnosis-staging/signs-symptoms.html#written_by
(6) Mohamed O. Othman, Diala Harb, Jodie A. Barkin (2018). Introduction and practical approach to exocrine pancreatic insufficiency for the practicing clinician. International Journal of Clinical Practice. 72(2): e13066. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5873407/
(7) A. Young Seo, Nayoung Kim, Dong Hyun Oh (2013). Abdominal Bloating: Pathophysiology and Treatment. Journal of Neurogastroenterological Motility. 19(4): 433-453. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3816178/
(8) Brian E. Lacy, John M. Levenick, Michael Crowell (2012). Chronic constipation: new diagnostic and treatment approaches. Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology. 5(4): 233-247. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3388525/
(9) Emil A. Tanghetti (2013). The Role of Inflammation in the Pathology of Acne. The Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology. 6(9): 27-35. Retrieved online at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3780801/
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Erica Mesirov, MS

Erica Mesirov is a food coach, helping people optimize their health and lose weight to live fully and vibrantly. She specializes in hel...

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