Is bloating serious - and what can you do about it?

Bloating can be a problem for many people.
Bloating can be a problem for many people.

We all know that feeling - painful, stretched, bloated stomach, which might be accompanied by excess gas, constipation, diarrhea and/or cramps.

However, for some people, bloating is more than an occasional irritation. So, is it serious and is there anything you can do about it?

Eat to beat

If you suffer from regular bloating and excess wind, the first step is to identify if it is caused by your diet or lifestyle.

Too much red meat, alcohol, sugar, fizzy drinks, processed food and caffeine can all cause bloating, constipation and wind. Cutting down on these should help.

Some vegetables can make bloating worse. If you suffer from bloating, try cutting down on the amount of beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions and sprouts you eat.

However, a varied diet with fresh fruit and vegetables is really important. You should eat a minimum of five portions of fruit and veg a day. The fibre they contain can help to reduce constipation, which can cause bloating

Chewing gum, or talking while eating, can cause you to swallow air leading to symptoms of bloating.

Getting yourself moving – walking, running, dancing and playing an active sport will all help to battle the bloat.

Your pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter remedies to help with bloating, constipation, diarrhea and excess wind. The more serious cases such as Crohn’s disease, you can discuss the repeat medication available, dependent on the condition.

Could it be cancer?

Bloating is a very common symptom and is only rarely linked to cancer. However, long-term bloating and abdominal pain, especially if they persist, could be a symptom of bowel or ovarian cancer.

A change in toilet habits and blood in the stools are also symptoms of bowel cancer.

If you have been feeling bloated for most days in the past month and other interventions, eg. exercise, keeping hydrated and eating well, haven’t worked – see your GP.

* Dr. Alexandra Phelan is an NHS GP and Online Doctor for Pharmacy2U. Manage your repeat prescriptions by going to www.pharmacy2u.co.uk/NHS