Why does your stomach rumble when you aren't hungry?

Stomach rumbling or stomach gurgling is completely normal and it's something we mostly associate with hunger. However, rumbling, gurgling, or growling noises do not always come from the stomach or occur when we haven't eaten. They can also be linked to other underlying medical issues.

Why does my stomach rumble?

It can be confusing when your stomach rumbles and you really aren't hungry, so why does it happen and can it be prevented?

Also known as borborygmi, bowel noises are produced when vigorous movements of the gut shuffle liquid and gas contents of the intestine backwards and forwards.

However, it's important to note that all noise doesn't come from the stomach alone, even if it seems that way. Sounds come from the whole digestive system, including the small intestine or colon.

Julie Thompson, Information Manager at Guts UK, says while a noisy gut can be caused by hunger, it may be from anxiety or fright.

She also says stomach rumbling noises are very common in IBS, but particularly loud rumblings from the intestines can be caused by gut problems such as Crohn's disease or bowel obstruction. These conditions are associated with other symptoms, such as severe abdominal pain, and should be reported to your doctor.

Is stomach rumbling common?

Borborygmi can occur at any time and are the sounds of peristalsis - a series of wave-like muscle contractions that mix food in the stomach with liquids and digestive juices and move food along through your intestines. During this process, air and gases produced by digestion, also get squeezed and make noises.

A rumbling or growling stomach is a normal part of the digestion process and the body's way of communicating hunger. Because there is nothing in the stomach to muffle or silence these rumbles, they are often noticeable.

Rumbling noises of an empty stomach will last 10-20 minutes out of every hour, until you fill your stomach up again. It is common both before eating - when you likely feel most hungry - and hours after your last meal.

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Does a stomach rumble always mean hunger?

The muscle contractions that cause a rumbling stomach actually happen all of the time, not just when we are hungry. However, they are more audible when the stomach or intestines are empty, as nothing but air is helping them travel around. When your stomach is empty, contractions happen about three times per minute, and usually multiple contractions occur at different places in the stomach. When it's full, those contractions don't stop completely, but they soften and slow down.

A couple of hours after your last meal moves out of your stomach, your stomach produces a hormone called ghrelin that signals hunger to your brain, causing the digestive system to restart peristalsis.

Not only does this trigger your body to consider where its next meal will come from, it acts as a bit of housekeeping for your insides - sweeping any remaining food and liquids down the digestive tract and into the intestines, leaving your stomach clean.

A growling gut doesn't necessarily mean you need to eat. It can simply be a sign that your most recent meal has moved further along your digestive system.

Why else might the stomach rumble?

Although stomach rumbling is usually nothing to be concerned about, it can sometimes be a sign of underlying health conditions. As previously explained by Thompson, these will have other symptoms, such as constipation or diarrhoea - a rumbling stomach is not typically the only sign.

Some conditions associated with stomach rumbling include:

Additionally, a diet high in fructose and sorbitol - sweeteners that are commonly used in soft drinks and juices - can cause loud stomach growls.

Can stomach rumbles be cured?

There generally isn't a way of diagnosing or treating stomach rumbling, because it is an everyday occurrence that usually does not suggest any underlying concerns. However, if you think your borborygmi are being caused by something else and a medical professional suspects a type of gastrointestinal disorder, they may refer you for investigations - potentially via an endoscopy or blood tests - and offer a specific course of treatment.

This could involve creating a diet plan and increasing fluid consumption.

How to stop stomach rumbling

There are also some natural ways of relieving stomach rumbles, as they can be embarrassing and frustrating. These remedies include:

  • Drinking water - water should be drunk slowly at regular intervals throughout the day, rather than in large gulps, which can cause gurgling sounds.
  • Eating slowly - chewing slowly can reduce the amount of air swallowed, preventing digestive distress.
  • Limiting sugar, alcohol, and acidic foods - sugars such as fructose and sorbitol, and foods like citrus fruits and coffee can cause stomach growling. Meanwhile, alcohol can irritate the digestive tract and can delay gastric emptying, leading to stomach pain.
  • Discovering your food intolerances - avoid foods that cause symptoms, and discuss the possibility of an intolerance with your doctor.
  • Staying physically active - walking after meals can speed up the rate at which your stomach empties.
  • Remaining calm - stomach growling can become more apparent in stressful situations.
  • Avoid foods that produce excessive gas.

Foods that produce gas

These include:
  • Beans.
  • Beer.
  • Broccoli.
  • Brussels sprouts.
  • Cabbage.
  • Cauliflower.
  • Lentils.
  • Mushrooms.
  • Onions.
  • Peas.
  • Whole grains.
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