Health

How long have you been bloated for? The duration of time that could be serious

Stomach bloating after eating can upend your plans, leaving you doubled up with intense pain. It is commonly attributed to eating too many gassy foods that cause the tummy to inflate and stretch. In most cases, you can therefore alleviate bloating by shunning gassy culprits.

If the bloating persists, it may signal a more serious underlying cause.

Persistent bloating can be a symptom of certain cancers, such as colon, ovarian, stomach, and pancreatic cancer.

According to the NHS, bloating could be cancerous if you've had bloating for three weeks or more.

If this is the case, the health body recommends seeing your GP to rule out the possibility.

Sudden bloating in older age may also indicate cancer in rare instances, according to Dr Kyle Staller, a gastroenterologist at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital.

The bloating associated with cancer is due to ascites - the medical term for a buildup of fluid in the abdomen.

According to Cancer Research UK, fluid can build up when:

Cancer cells irritate the lining of the abdomen and make it produce too much fluidLymph glands in the abdomen get blocked and can't drain fluid properlyCancer has spread to the liver and raises the pressure in nearby blood vessels, which forces fluid out the liver can't make enough blood proteins so fluid leaks out of veins into the abdominal cavity.

"The fluid causes swelling that can make the tummy feel tight and very uncomfortable. It often develops over a few weeks but might happen over a few days," explains the charity.

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What other underlying conditions cause bloating?

According to Harvard Health, other underlying conditions include:

Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterised by a combination of symptoms (bloating, cramping, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or constipation) that last for three or more months.Inflammatory bowel disease, an inflammation of the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.Celiac disease, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the small intestine. It's triggered by a protein called gluten that's found in wheat, barley, and rye.Constipation, a condition defined by fewer than three bowel movements per week, hard or dry stools, the need to strain to move the bowels, and a sense of an incomplete evacuation.Gastroparesis, a sluggish emptying of food from the stomach into the small intestine.

"Sometimes bloating results when your body has a hard time digesting sugars in certain foods," says the health body.

The key culprits are in a group known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols), it explains.

Examples include wheat, rye, onions, garlic, legumes (chickpeas, lentils, beans), honey, pistachios, cashews, asparagus, and artichokes.


According to the NHS, the best approach if you have food problems is to eat less of the problem food or cut it out completely.

"Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, noting everything that you eat and drink and when bloating troubles you most," advises the health body.

It adds: "But do not get rid of food groups long-term without advice from your GP."

What are the worst culprits?

"Probably a third of patients in my allergy clinic complain of digestive symptoms such as bloating, diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pain after eating bread," said Isabel Skypala PhD, specialist allergy dietitian at the Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust.


According to Skypala, an allergy is unlikely to be the culprit, but bread-related symptoms are real, and wheat could be to blame.

"Some people find certain foods are simply hard to digest, and wheat appears to be one of those," she said.

If you have bloating or other minor symptoms after eating bread, Dr Skypala recommended trying an elimination diet.

This is where you completely cut out wheat from your diet for four weeks, then gradually bring it back in to see if symptoms reappear.



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