The study also found that women were twice as likely as men to report feeling bloated.
According to a recent study conducted by Cedars-Sinai According to researchers, about 1 in 7 Americans experience bloating on a weekly basis, but most do not seek medical attention for it. The findings were recently published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
“Although swelling is a common symptom, some patients may not bring it up with their doctors,” said Janice Oh, MD, a resident physician in Cedars-Sinai’s Division of General Internal Medicine and first author of the study. “It’s important that people feel comfortable talking about swelling because it could be a symptom of a serious condition and treatments are available.”
People who are bloated may feel tightness or swelling in the abdomen. It can occur when a person’s gastrointestinal tract fills with air or gas, and is sometimes caused by diet or an underlying condition, such as irritable bowel syndrome, carbohydrate enzyme deficiency, or chronic constipation.
To understand the extent of bloat in the US, the authors sent an email survey to nearly 90,000 people. Of the 88,795 people who completed the survey between May and June 2020, 12,324 (13.9%) reported swelling in the past seven days.
“To our knowledge, this is one of the largest studies of swelling in the US,” said Brennan Spiegel, MD, MSHS, director of Health Services Research at Cedars-Sinai and the study’s lead author. “Anecdotally, we often hear about swelling in the clinic, but this study adds concrete evidence to describe how often it occurs and what other conditions it is associated with.”
Of the people who reported experiencing bloating, about 58.5% said they had never sought care for their symptoms.
Some of the reasons they gave for not seeking care were that the swelling resolved on its own (32.5%), it was not bothersome (29.9%), they were able to control it with over-the-counter medications or lifestyle changes (20.8%), did not have health insurance (10.2%) or time to go to the doctor (9%), or did not feel comfortable discussing the swelling with a health care provider (8.5%).
Women were also more than twice as likely as men to report swelling.
“Other studies have also found that women report more swelling than men, and researchers have proposed several hypotheses as to why this may be occurring,” Oh explained. “These include hormonal, metabolic, psychosocial, lifestyle, and dietary differences between men and women.”
Latinos and people under the age of 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 experience bloating.
“Bloating can often be effectively controlled with various medications, such as antibiotics that target the gut or treatments that affect serotonin levels in the gut. There is also evidence that lifestyle changes can help, including exercise such as core strengthening, as well as dietary changes, but it requires a discussion with a healthcare provider about what might be causing the swelling. Oh said.
More studies are needed to investigate what causes the swelling and how best to treat it, according to the researchers.
Reference: “Bloating in the United States: Results of a Survey of 88,795 Americans Examining Prevalence and Care-Seeking” by Janice E. Oh, William D. Chey, and Brennan Spiegel, November 14, 2022, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
The study was funded by Ironwood Pharmaceuticals.