Nearly one in seven Americans experience bloating each week, and most do not seek professional care, according to a new study by Cedars-Sinai investigators. The findings are published in Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology.
Although bloating is a common symptom, some patients may not tell their doctor about it. It’s important that people feel comfortable discussing bloating, as it could be a symptom of a serious illness and there are treatments.
Janice Oh, MD, resident physician in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Cedars-Sinai and first author of the study
Bloating can make people feel bloated or tight in the abdomen. It can occur when a person’s gastrointestinal tract fills with air or gas and can sometimes be the result of diet or an underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, deficiency in carbohydrate enzymes or chronic constipation.
To understand the extent of bloating in the United States, the authors sent an email survey to nearly 90,000 people. Of the 88,795 people who responded to the survey from May to June 2020, 12,324 (13.9%) reported bloating in the past seven days.
“To our knowledge, this is one of the largest bloating studies in the United States,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of health services research at Cedars-Sinai and author. principal of the study. “Anecdotally, we often hear about bloating in the clinic, but this study adds concrete evidence to describe how often it occurs and what other conditions it is associated with.”
Of those who reported experiencing bloating, about 58.5% said they never sought treatment for their symptoms.
Some of the reasons given for not seeking care were that the bloating went away on its own (32.5%), that it was not bothersome (29.9%), that they could manage it with medication by over-the-counter or lifestyle changes (20.8%), they didn’t have health insurance (10.2%) or didn’t have time to go to the doctor (9%), or they were not comfortable discussing bloating with a healthcare professional (8.5%).
Women were also more than twice as likely as men to report bloating.
“Other studies have also shown that women report more bloating than men, and researchers have offered various hypotheses as to why this may be happening,” Oh explained. “These include hormonal, metabolic, psychosocial, lifestyle and dietary differences between men and women.”
Latinos and people under 60 were also more likely to report bloating in the past seven days, as were people with medical conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic constipation and ulcerative colitis. People with related gastrointestinal symptoms, such as abdominal pain and excess gas, were also more likely to suffer from bloating.
“Bloating can often be effectively managed with various medications, such as gut-directed antibiotics or treatments that affect serotonin levels in the gut. There is also some evidence that lifestyle changes can help, including exercise, such as core strengthening, as well as dietary changes, but that requires a discussion with a healthcare provider about what might be causing the bloating,” Oh said.
More studies are needed to investigate the causes of bloating and the best way to treat it, the researchers say.
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
Oh, I et al. (2022) Abdominal bloating in the United States: results of a survey of 88,795 Americans examining prevalence and health care seeking. Clinical gastroenterology and hepatology. doi.org/10.1016/j.cgh.2022.10.031.