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Home » What Causes IBS Bloating: Understanding the Triggers and Finding Relief

What Causes IBS Bloating: Understanding the Triggers and Finding Relief

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder that affects millions of individuals worldwide. It is characterized by symptoms including bloating, abdominal pain, gas, reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and irregular bowel habits. 

One of the hallmark symptoms of IBS is bloating, which differs from normal bloating experienced after a large meal or temporary water retention. IBS bloating can be chronic, unpredictable, and occur even after consuming small amounts of food. It can leave individuals feeling distended, full, and uncomfortable, affecting their daily activities and overall well-being.

In this blog post, we will explore the causes of IBS bloating and share some strategies you can try right now for bloat relief. We will also discuss foods, lifestyle habits, and stress management techniques to consider implementing into your day-to-day to help manage and alleviate IBS bloating long-term. 

Let’s explore the factors contributing to IBS bloating and what you can do to feel better and improve your quality of life with IBS.

Woman lays in window seat with her eyes closed and a pillow over her stomach, IBS bloating

What Causes IBS Bloating?

Impaired Gut Motility (Constipation)

One of the leading causes of bloating in individuals with IBS is impaired gut motility. Research suggests that people with IBS may experience abnormalities in the movement of the small intestines, leading to the accumulation of gas and bloating. This altered motility can result in delayed transit time, allowing more time for gas production and fermentation of undigested carbohydrates.

Back-up bloat is one of the most common causes of bloating in patients with IBS and is usually an indication of constipation or inability to fully evacuate daily. This type of bloating occurs when we are Full of Stool (FOS), and it’s very common among IBS patients.

Typically you wake up feeling fine, but as the day goes on, you get more and more bloated and may end up looking 6 months pregnant by night.⁠ You may have a bowel movement daily, but if your bowel movement is not a full evacuation, it can build up.

To resolve backup bloat, you need to resolve constipation and understand why your gut slows down. There are many things that can cause slower gut motility. Some people have a true food intolerance (keep reading if you think this may be you.) But for most people, your bloat may improve drastically just by improving dietary & lifestyle habits.

Woman drinks a glass of water to stay hydrated

Here are certain things that can cause slower gut motility which may lead to bloating:

  • Hydration
  • Fiber intake⁠
  • Hormones
  • Sleep
  • Stress⁠

and more.

FODMAPS (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols)

FODMAPs are a group of fermentable carbohydrates. They’re good for us, and they feed our gut microbes. However, some FODMAPs draw water into our small intestine, causing distention and gurgling in our belly, and all FODMAPs are rapidly fermented in our large intestine, causing bloating and gas. 

When consumed in high amounts, FODMAPs can cause excessive gas production and bloating in individuals with IBS. 

Foods rich in FODMAPs include wheat, onions, garlic, legumes, and certain fruits such as apples and pears. Adopting a low FODMAP diet under the guidance of a healthcare professional may help reduce bloating symptoms (ACG Clinical Guideline, 2021).

Adopting a low FODMAP diet generally works for about 70-80% of IBS patients to identify their food triggers (i.e., the specific group or groups of FODMAPs that trigger symptoms in you). 

There are 3 phases to the Low FODMAP diet

  1. Elimination Phase to reduce symptoms and begin to investigate underlying causes.
  2. Reintroduction of FODMAPs group by group to learn your tolerance to each group.
  3. Expand your diet based on your food triggers and personal tolerances.
Raw chicken breast on a cutting board, a low FODMAP food

The problem is, many people try to follow a low FODMAP diet on their own (or follow it for too long) and don’t see any relief or see their symptoms getting worse. When you try to follow the low FODMAP diet by yourself, or you work with providers who are not properly trained, you may not be implementing it properly. When you do the diet incorrectly, you may not get symptom relief. 

For more information on properly adopting a low FODMAP diet for bloat relief, click here to watch my free IBS webinar on 3 Mistakes to Avoid for IBS Freedom.

3 mistakes to avoid on the low fodmap diet for IBS freedom

Gluten Sensitivity

While not exclusive to individuals with IBS, some studies suggest that a subset of people with IBS may experience bloating due to Non-Celiac Wheat Sensitivity or Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. In individuals with gluten sensitivity, consumption of gluten-containing foods can trigger gastrointestinal symptoms, including bloating, pain, reflux, constipation, or diarrhea. You must be tested out of Celiac Disease appropriately before getting a diagnosis of Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. 

Due to the restrictive nature of the gluten free diet, it is essential to consult with a healthcare provider to determine if gluten elimination or a gluten-free diet is necessary for you.

Dietary Factors

Dietary factors can play a significant role in managing and improving symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here are some dietary strategies that may help alleviate IBS symptoms, including bloating:

Low FODMAP Diet:

The low FODMAP diet is a therapeutic approach that involves temporarily reducing or eliminating certain types of carbohydrates known as FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). FODMAPs can trigger digestive symptoms in some individuals with IBS. Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in the low FODMAP diet can help you properly implement and customize this approach to identify your specific trigger foods.

Chia seeds on a wooden spoon
Soluble Fiber:

Soluble fiber can help regulate bowel movements and reduce bloating. Good sources of soluble fiber include oats, psyllium husk, flaxseeds, chia seeds, and fruits like bananas and berries. Gradually increasing soluble fiber intake may be beneficial, but it’s important to monitor how your body responds, as some individuals with IBS may be sensitive to fiber.

Adequate Hydration:

Drinking enough water and staying hydrated is essential for maintaining regular bowel movements and preventing constipation, which can contribute to bloating. Aim to drink an adequate amount of water throughout the day and limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can worsen IBS symptoms.

Smaller, Frequent Meals:

Eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of large, heavy meals can help prevent bloating and discomfort. Chew your food thoroughly and eat at a relaxed pace.

Food Diary:

Keeping a food diary can help you identify trigger foods or beverages that worsen your IBS symptoms, including bloating. Take note of the foods you eat and any symptoms experienced after each meal. This can help you identify patterns and make informed dietary adjustments.

Food Intolerances:

Some individuals with IBS may have specific food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity. If you suspect a particular food or group of foods is causing your symptoms, consider working with a healthcare professional to determine if further testing or elimination diets are necessary.

Probiotics:

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help promote a healthy balance of gut microbiota and improve digestive health. Consuming probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or taking probiotic supplements may provide relief for some individuals with IBS. However, it’s important to choose a probiotic strain that has been studied for IBS and consult with your healthcare team for personalized recommendations.

Chickpeas on a silver spoon
Consuming high amounts of gas-producing foods:

Such as beans, lentils, and carbonated beverages, can contribute to excessive gas and bloating. Artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, and insoluble fibers found in foods like Brussels sprouts and cabbage can also cause bloating. 

It’s worth noting that dietary approaches for IBS may vary among individuals, and what works for one person may not work for another. Working with a registered dietitian who specializes in IBS can help you develop a personalized diet plan based on your specific symptoms, triggers, and nutritional needs. They can provide guidance, support, and help you make dietary modifications that can effectively manage your IBS symptoms and improve your overall well-being.

If you want to learn more about this topic, check out my free IBS Masterclass on 3-Mistakes to Avoid for IBS Freedom where I talk all about IBS & FODMAPs! 

Woman on her couch watching a webinar on her laptop titled 3 Mistakes to Avoid on the Low Fodmap Diet for IBS Freedom

Gut Microbiota Imbalance

The gut microbiota plays a crucial role in digestion and overall gut health. In individuals with IBS, an imbalance in the composition of gut bacteria may contribute to bloating. Certain type of probiotic and prebiotic supplements have shown promise in improving symptoms of IBS, including bloating. These supplements work by restoring the balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut and promoting healthy digestion. 

However, probiotics is strain specific, you have to take the right strain for symptom improvement. Taking a mismatched strain may not provide any benefit and sometimes can even make your symptoms worse. Always consult with your healthcare team for personalized recommendations.

Ultimately, if you want to improve your gut microbiota, you want to eat a good variety of plant-based foods to support a diverse gut microbiome, and adopting a well-balanced diet that avoids trigger foods can help alleviate symptoms. Try to aim for 30 different types of plant foods per week! 

Learn more about probiotics and which strains might be beneficial for IBS.

Always consult with your healthcare provider before taking any supplements. 

A woman cycles on a road with lots of greenery in the background

Lifestyle Factors

Several lifestyle factors can help improve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Here are some lifestyle strategies that may provide relief:

Stress Management:

High levels of stress and anxiety can worsen IBS symptoms, including bloating. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, deep breathing exercises, or regular exercise can help manage stress and improve overall well-being.

Regular Exercise:

Regular physical activity can help regulate bowel movements and improve digestion. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming, on most days of the week.

Adequate Hydration:

Staying hydrated is important for maintaining regular bowel movements and preventing constipation. Drink plenty of water throughout the day, and limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, as they can worsen IBS symptoms.

Sleep Quality:

Poor sleep can contribute to increased stress levels and worsen IBS symptoms. Establish a regular sleep routine, create a comfortable sleep environment, and prioritize getting enough sleep each night.

Meal Timing and Portion Control:

Eating regular meals and avoiding large, heavy meals can help prevent bloating and discomfort. Instead of eating three large meals, try eating smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day. Chew your food thoroughly and eat at a relaxed pace.

Gut-Directed Therapy:

Gut-directed therapy includes techniques that focus on improving the mind-gut connection and reducing symptoms. This may involve techniques such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), relaxation exercises, and hypnotherapy. Consulting with a healthcare professional experienced in gut-directed therapy can be beneficial.

Exercise, water intake, sleep, and stress levels can also impact bloating and other IBS symptoms. For my husband and me, sleep and stress actually affected our symptoms more than the food we were eating. ⁠(Read our story with IBS here.) ⁠⁠

Finding relief from IBS is not just about what you eat (or don’t eat) but also about your lifestyle, your gut health, and much more.⁠⁠ That’s why I created the IBS Freedom Approach to help you find step-by-step relief and freedom from IBS using a holistic approach tackles all 3 areas of IBS, food trigger, lifestyle trigger (gut-brain), and gut function.⁠⁠

How to Relieve IBS Bloating

Medications

Several medications can help manage IBS bloating. Antispasmodics can reduce gut spasms and relieve bloating and pain. Over-the-counter remedies, such as simethicone, can aid in the breakup of gas bubbles in the digestive system, providing relief from bloating.

Oats on a wooden spoon

Dietary Changes

Modifying your diet can significantly impact bloating symptoms. Besides following a low FODMAP diet, consuming soluble fiber sources, such as oats and psyllium, can help regulate bowel movements and reduce bloating. It is important to introduce dietary changes gradually and consult with a registered dietitian for personalized guidance.

For bloat-free low FODMAP recipes and snack ideas, download my free Low FODMAP Grocery List.

Probiotic/Prebiotic Supplements

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can improve gut health and alleviate bloating. Prebiotics, on the other hand, are fibers that act as a food source for gut bacteria. Including probiotic-rich foods like yogurt or taking probiotic supplements can help restore a healthy balance of gut bacteria and ease bloating symptoms.

A man meditates in a field

Stress Management

Stress and anxiety can exacerbate symptoms of IBS, including bloating. Engaging in stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, or regular exercise can help manage IBS-related bloating. Additionally, seeking therapy or counseling may provide valuable support in improving the quality of life for those with IBS.

Lifestyle strategies such as regularly practicing yoga, meditation, meal timing, tummy massages can be helpful to people with IBS bloating. Follow me on Instagram @ibs.dietitian for yoga poses and tummy massage ideas to stimulate the gut and move things along. ⁠Bloat is no fun, but there are ways to find relief from your symptoms!

10 Best Foods to Eat for IBS Bloating

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to managing IBS symptoms, including bloat, certain foods have shown promise in reducing bloating and promoting better digestion. 

From soothing herbs and spices to gut-friendly fiber sources, below, you’ll find a selection of delicious and nutritious options that may help alleviate IBS-related bloating. 

Lots of ginger root, best foods to eat for IBS bloating

Ginger:

Known for its anti-inflammatory properties, ginger can help reduce bloating and soothe the digestive system.

Peppermint:

Peppermint has a relaxing effect on the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract, helping to alleviate bloating and discomfort.

Bananas:

Rich in potassium and easily digestible, bananas can provide relief from bloating while providing essential nutrients.

Halved cucumbers laid out aesthetically, best foods for IBS bloating

Cucumber:

With its high water content, cucumber acts as a natural diuretic, aiding in reducing water retention and bloating.

Papaya:

This tropical fruit contains an enzyme called papain, which aids in digestion and reduces bloating.

Fennel:

Fennel seeds have carminative properties, which can help alleviate gas and bloating.

Yogurt:

Probiotic-rich yogurt helps promote a healthy gut microbiome and reduce bloating.

Triangular cuts of pineapple, best foods for IBS bloating

Pineapple:

Bromelain, an enzyme found in pineapple, aids in digestion and can alleviate bloating.

Spinach:

Low in FODMAPs and high in soluble fiber, spinach can aid in digestion and reduce bloating.

Turmeric:

This anti-inflammatory spice can help reduce bloating and improve overall gut health.

In Conclusion

IBS bloating can significantly impact your quality of life. By understanding the causes and implementing appropriate strategies, such as dietary modifications, stress management, and incorporating beneficial foods and supplements, it is possible to find relief from bloating and regain control over your digestive health.

Woman looks in the mirror with her hands over her stomach, IBS bloating

While living with IBS and bloat can be challenging, you’re not alone, and there are many resources available to help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.

Click here to learn more about IBS Freedom, a dietitian-led holistic program to help you manage IBS and get relief from symptoms like gas, bloating, pain, reflux, and irregular bowel habits once and for all.

Summary

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a common gastrointestinal disorder characterized by symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, gas, reflux, constipation, diarrhea, and irregular bowel habits.
  1. Chronic and unpredictable bloating is a hallmark symptom of IBS, causing discomfort and affecting daily activities.
  1. Impaired gut motility can contribute to IBS bloating, resulting in delayed transit time and increased gas production.
  1. FODMAPs, a group of carbohydrates, can cause excessive gas production and bloating in individuals with IBS. Following a low FODMAP diet can help reduce bloating symptoms.
  1. Gluten sensitivity may trigger bloating in some individuals with IBS. Consulting with a healthcare provider is essential to determine if gluten elimination is necessary.
  1. Dietary factors, such as consuming gas-producing foods (FODMAP) and artificial sweeteners, can worsen bloating in individuals with IBS. Gradually introducing dietary changes and maintaining a well-balanced diet can help alleviate symptoms.
  1. An imbalance in gut microbiota composition can contribute to IBS bloating. Targeted probiotic and prebiotic supplements can restore a healthy balance of beneficial bacteria and improve digestion.
  1. Lifestyle factors, including exercise, water intake, sleep, and stress management, can impact bloating and other IBS symptoms. Engaging in stress-reducing activities and seeking therapy may provide relief.
  1. Medications, dietary changes (including a low FODMAP diet), targeted probiotic/prebiotic supplements, and stress management techniques are effective strategies for relieving IBS bloating.
  1. Including ginger, peppermint, bananas, cucumber, papaya, fennel, yogurt, pineapple, spinach, and turmeric in your diet may help reduce bloating and improve digestion.
  1. Managing IBS bloating requires a comprehensive approach that addresses the underlying causes and incorporates dietary and lifestyle modifications. Consulting with healthcare professionals and following personalized strategies can help individuals find relief and improve their quality of life.

References:

American College of Gastroenterology. (2021). ACG clinical guideline: management of irritable bowel syndrome. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 116(1), 17-44. doi: 10.14309/ajg.0000000000001001

Chey, W. D., Kurlander, J., & Eswaran, S. (2015). Irritable bowel syndrome: a clinical review. Journal of the American Medical Association, 313(9), 949-958.

Moayyedi, P., & Ford, A. C. (2016). Symptom-based diagnostic criteria for irritable bowel syndrome: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Gastroenterology, 150(6), 1484-1487.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. (2018). Symptoms & Causes of Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Rao, S. S., Yu, S., & Fedewa, A. (2015). Systematic review: dietary fibre and FODMAP-restricted diet in the management of constipation and irritable bowel syndrome. Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, 41(12), 1256-1270.

Saha, L. (2014). Irritable bowel syndrome: pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and evidence-based medicine. World Journal of Gastroenterology, 20(22), 6759-6773.

Talley, N. J., & Holtmann, G. (2012). Irritable bowel syndrome and chronic functional abdominal pain: management in primary care. Medical Journal of Australia, 196(5), 286-290.

Wilder-Smith, C. H. (2012). The balancing act: endogenous modulation of pain in functional gastrointestinal disorders. Gut, 61(3), 430-432.

Zhu, Y., Zheng, X., Cong, Y., & Chu, H. (2018). Bloating and distention in irritable bowel syndrome: the role of gas production and visceral sensation after lactose ingestion in a population with lactase deficiency. The American Journal of Gastroenterology, 113(3), 396-405.

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