Most people know how bloating feels; that pressure in the abdomen, being choked by your waistband. You might expect that the obvious culprit is too much gas, but the symptoms of bloating can occur with perfectly normal amounts of gas. Dr Charlie Murray, consultant gastroenterologist, says that bloating is poorly understood and poorly managed, but very common.
✤ In at least a quarter of people, bloating is caused by the gut being super-sensitive to ordinary amounts of gas. The volume of gas, and the speed at which food is moving through the gut are normal, but the abdominal muscles relax and, unconsciously, get pushed out. This leads to the sensation of fullness, which can be relieved by loosening your clothes (although remember to do them up again before you go anywhere).
✤ Murray says we take in 20ml of air each time we swallow, so it makes sense not to take in more than we have to; don't eat too quickly and avoid fizzy drinks. The jury is still out, he says, on probiotics (found in well-advertised yoghurt products). By seeding the gut with a better class of bacteria, that reduce the gut's sensitivity to stimuli such as gas, they may reduce bloating. But Murray believes they have a large placebo effect.
✤ A high-fibre diet works for some people, but worsens bloating in others. Murray recommends the FODMAP diet, which involves reducing the intake of gas-producing sugars such as fructose, found as syrup in fizzy drinks and in fruit juices. Foods such as baked beans also have fermentable products in them that cause gas. One trial showed this diet led to a 70% reduction in bloating. If you want to try it, ask your GP to refer you to a dietician.
✤ Bloating is also found in irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohns. If you have any other symptoms with your bloating such as a change in bowel habit or bleeding from your bottom, of if you are a woman and have pronounced bloating which does not go down, see your doctor.