Many people deal with the frustrations of belly bloat. You may feel the sensation of trapped gas, abdominal pressure, or fullness. You may also notice your abdomen physically increase in size.

Occasional bloating is a normal part of digestion. But bloating that becomes frequent and interferes with your daily life is a sign that there may be a more significant issue.

If your stomach blows up like a balloon after every meal, it’s time to figure out what’s going on.

Common Causes of the Dreaded Belly Bloat

Bloating has many potential causes. You may feel bloated after eating certain foods or making behavioral choices that cause you to swallow air. In other cases, digestive problems may be responsible for your symptoms.

Common causes of belly bloat include:

  • Constipation. Increased stool bulk in the colon due to prolonged transit time can lead to abdominal distension. Sometimes, gas can become trapped behind stool stuck in the colon, which also raises abdominal pressure.
  • Heartburn. Burning chest or throat pain can make you swallow more frequently. This can result in swallowing excess air. The gas in the stomach then escapes through belching.
  • Overeating. After you eat, your stomach naturally expands. Eating too much food can cause your stomach to become uncomfortably enlarged and push against other abdominal organs.
  • IBS. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a digestive condition that can cause abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation. People with IBS have greater visceral sensitivity, which makes them more responsive to bloating symptoms.
  • Food sensitivity. Food sensitivities or intolerances occur when people are unable to digest a particular food. This can cause bloating and distension after eating. Common food intolerances include lactose, fructose, gluten, and wheat.
  • Celiac disease. In people with celiac disease, ingesting gluten causes an immune reaction that attacks the small intestine lining. This results in inflammation and bloating.
  • SIBO. The accumulation of bacteria in the small intestine can cause bloating. Keep reading to learn more about this condition.

Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)

SIBO is a digestive condition that results in the abnormal growth of bacteria in the small intestine. This occurs when bowel motility slows down, and food sits in the small intestine. SIBO often originates due to underlying causes such as physical obstruction, nerve damage, or muscle weakness. While most people are not aware of this condition, it’s a surprisingly common culprit of belly bloat.

How Does SIBO Cause Bloating?

During normal digestion, food mixes with digestive juices in the small intestine and quickly moves to the large intestine for further digestion. But when food becomes stagnant in the small intestine, it creates a breeding ground for bacteria.

The small intestine normally contains a bacterial population of fewer than 10,000 organisms/mL. Shockingly, this number can multiply to more than 100,000 with SIBO.

Bacteria are essential for optimal gut function. But they can be harmful when in the wrong place. Bacteria break down carbohydrates and produce methane and hydrogen gas. This increased volume of gas stretches the small intestine and causes painful belly bloat.


Bloating is often a tell-tale symptom of SIBO. But you may also experience additional symptoms depending on the types of bacteria growing in the small intestine.

Other symptoms of SIBO may include:

  • Abdominal distension
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Osteoporosis


The gold standard for the diagnosis of SIBO is the aspiration and culture of duodenal fluid during an upper endoscopy. The duodenum is the upper part of the small intestine. A positive culture occurs when more than 100,000 organisms/mL are detected in aspirates.

Breath testing is another way to diagnose SIBO. This is a non-invasive procedure that captures exhaled air. A SIBO breath test uses lactulose, an indigestible sugar, to measure bacteria in the small intestine.

After ingesting lactulose, you breathe into a collection device for 3 hours. The collection device detects the levels of hydrogen and methane that you exhale. High levels of hydrogen or methane are a sign that you may have SIBO.


Whenever possible, treatment for SIBO corrects the underlying cause. This may mean surgically removing a physical obstruction or improving bowel motility in someone with celiac disease by eating a gluten-free diet. When the underlying problem isn’t reversible, treatment focuses on reducing bacterial overgrowth and improving digestive health.

Antibiotic Therapy

Antibiotic therapy can prevent the growth of bacteria in the small intestine. A short treatment with antibiotics can often relieve symptoms of SIBO.

Unfortunately, antibiotics don’t just kill the unwanted bacteria in the small intestine. They can also affect the beneficial community of microorganisms in your large intestine known as your gut microbiome. Because of this, treatment for SIBO also includes making dietary changes to maintain lasting benefits

Dietary Changes

In the short term, following a low FODMAP diet may reduce symptoms of SIBO. This diet plan eliminates sugars that the small intestine absorbs poorly. By removing foods with these sugars from your diet, you can avoid feeding the bacteria in your small intestine. This decreases the amount of gas production and may also lower levels of abnormal bacteria.

After your symptoms resolve, it’s important to restore your gut health and reduce the risk of SIBO recurrence. Eating a plant-based diet rich in prebiotic fiber and digestive enzymes can improve the diversity of your gut microbiome and help you stay healthy.

When to See a Gastroenterologist for Bloating

If you experience persistent bloating, you should see a GI doctor to find the root cause of your problem. You may need medical intervention to treat your symptoms and enhance your quality of life.

Signs of serious bloating are not always obvious. You should see a gastroenterologist for bloating if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Blood in the stool
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

If you want to ditch your belly bloat and boost your gut health, you can call our office at 806-696-4440 or request an appointment online.