Why bloating can be a serious problem - and what you can do about it
We all know that feeling - a painful, stretched, bloated stomach, which might be accompanied by excess gas, constipation, diarrhoea 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 reducing 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.
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.
Your pharmacist can advise on over-the-counter remedies to help with bloating, constipation, diarrhea and excess wind.
For more serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease, your GP may prescribe repeat medications, dependent on the condition.
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 a GP with the NHS and Pharmacy2U, an online service which provides free, fast and convenient delivery of NHS repeat prescriptions.