Two abdominal illustrations, the left one is an inflamed stomach and the right one is a bulged and inflamed stomach colored in red.

Gas and Bloating with IBD

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) has 2 main forms: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (UC). Both of these forms can cause stomach pain, diarrhea, and constipation. Other very common symptoms include passing gas and bloating. These symptoms can cause a lot of pain and discomfort, but there are some mealtime changes that may help.1

What causes gas and bloating?

It is normal to have some gas in your intestines. The human body produces several liters of gas every day as we digest the food we eat. Excess gas or bloating is most often caused by trapped air in the intestines. This can be the air that was swallowed while you were eating, or it can be made by your gut bacteria as they break down food.

Bloating can also happen when you are constipated. Air is trapped behind the blockage and cannot be passed as wind.1

Previous abdominal surgery can also cause gas and bloating. As the surgery site heals, your organs may form “adhesions.” These are areas where, during the healing process, different organs have become attached to each other where they would not normally be. This can reduce how much your gut can move, so air may exit more slowly.1

Changing meal habits to reduce gas and bloating

IBD specialists recommend looking at how you eat as the first step to reduce gas and bloating. For example, eating large bites quickly can cause you to swallow excess air. Also, drinking carbonated waters or soda can cause bloating. Any extra carbonation that is not belched up will move through your gut.1

Think of meals as a time to relax and take care of your gut health. Nervous tension while eating can negatively affect your digestion. To prevent swallowing air, eat slowly with your mouth closed. Chewing your food well may also help. Some people living with IBD also recommend avoiding large meals late at night because it makes them uncomfortable.1

Food and digestion with Crohn's or UC

Some foods are slightly more difficult for the body to digest than others. It is helpful to eat these foods in moderation to reduce symptoms and the strain on your gut. Complex carbohydrates like those in beans, brussels sprouts, and similar vegetables are hard to digest.

When gut bacteria break them down, they can form a lot of gas. Raw, fibrous vegetables like broccoli can also cause excess gas when digested. Cooking these vegetables well may help.1

Drinking plenty of fluids may also be helpful. Staying hydrated can prevent constipation and gas buildup. However, specialists recommend avoiding drinks with caffeine, such as coffee, tea, and soda. Some drinks and processed foods may also contain artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, which can cause gas when broken down.1

Can certain diets help with IBD?

IBD treatment is aimed at healing any damage that has happened to the gut and improving IBD symptoms. Today, IBD is usually treated with drugs that reduce inflammation. In serious cases, surgery may be performed to remove areas of the gut that are damaged. However, researchers are now studying how certain diets can treat IBD.2

Researchers reviewed many different diets to see which is the most effective. They found that an exclusion diet tailored to each person was the most helpful. If you would like to try an exclusion diet, it is best to work with a dietitian or nutritionist. They will make sure that you are still eating enough vitamins and nutrients.

This diet begins with eating only those foods that do not trigger IBD symptoms. As time goes on, new foods are introduced. If any new food triggers symptoms, it will be removed from the diet.2

The exclusion diet is beneficial because it is specific for every person. However, some people find that it can be too restrictive. An IBD specialist or nutritionist can help you alter your diet so it works best for you.2

There are non-dietary strategies that may be helpful as well. Staying active by taking short walks throughout the day or exercising can help you digest and move gas through the intestines. Massaging your stomach from right to left may also release any air that is trapped there, relieving bloating.1

If you have more questions about IBD or would like to try a change in your diet, speak to your doctor or nutritionist.1

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