Bloating is a common digestive complaint that can make your stomach feel puffy, swollen, and generally uncomfortable. It happens when gas and fluid get trapped in your abdomen, causing it to expand. Bloating can be mild and go away quickly, but it can also last for days or weeks if an underlying condition is causing it. Here’s a look at how long bloating should last and when you may need to talk to your doctor.
What Causes Bloating?
There are several potential causes of bloating:
- Eating too much fiber too quickly
- Eating foods that contain FODMAPs (fermentable carbs)
- Swallowing air when eating or drinking
- Food intolerance or food allergy
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
- Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying)
- Medications like NSAIDs, calcium channel blockers, antibiotics
In many cases, bloating is caused by eating too much fiber, unhealthy foods, or swallowing excess air. It can also be a sign of an underlying medical condition.
How Long Does Bloating Normally Last?
For occasional mild bloating after eating, symptoms usually go away within a few hours. Bloating should not persist for more than 24 hours at a time if there is no underlying medical issue.
Here is an overview of how long bloating typically lasts:
|Cause of Bloating||Duration of Bloating|
|Overeating||2 to 3 hours|
|Eating fatty foods||3 to 6 hours|
|Eating foods high in FODMAPs||3 to 5 hours|
|Swallowing excess air||30 minutes to 3 hours|
|Mild constipation||12 to 24 hours|
|Food intolerance||2 to 4 hours|
|Medications||4 to 12 hours|
As you can see, mild, occasional bloating linked to your diet or lifestyle habits can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 day. If it persists longer than that, an underlying medical issue may be to blame.
When to See Your Doctor
You should make an appointment with your doctor if:
- Bloating lasts more than 2 to 3 days
- Bloating is severe or worsening
- You experience bloating along with other symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, weight loss, or blood in the stool
- You have recurring bloating that is not resolved by changing your diet
Persistent or severe bloating could be a sign of:
- Food intolerance like lactose intolerance or gluten sensitivity
- IBD like Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Celiac disease
- Ovarian cancer
- Peptic ulcer
Your doctor can help diagnose any underlying condition and develop a treatment plan to relieve your bloating.
Treatments for Chronic Bloating
If lifestyle changes like avoiding gassy foods, FODMAPs, and eating more slowly don’t resolve chronic bloating, your doctor may recommend:
- Medications: Antibiotics for SIBO, antispasmodics for IBS, enzyme supplements for lactose intolerance
- Probiotics: Can improve gut bacteria balance
- Low FODMAP diet: Eliminating fermentable carbs
- Food allergy testing: To identify problem foods
- Digestive enzymes: Can improve breakdown of foods
- Peppermint oil: Has antispasmodic effects
Note that some causes of bloating like gastroparesis, IBD, or pancreatitis may require more advanced drug treatments or surgery if severe.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Bloating
Making certain diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way towards preventing and reducing chronic bloating. Try to:
- Eat more slowly and chew food thoroughly
- Avoid chewing gum and drinking through straws
- Cut back on salt, carbonated beverages, beans, cruciferous veggies
- Limit high FODMAP foods like onions, apples, dairy
- Exercise regularly to improve gut motility
- Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated
- Reduce stress through yoga, meditation, counseling
- Quit smoking, as it exacerbates digestive issues
Give these lifestyle changes 2 to 4 weeks to work before expecting bloating relief. Combining them with targeted medical treatments can get you feeling comfortable faster.
When to Expect Improvement
How long it takes for bloating to resolve depends on the cause and severity. Here’s an overview:
|Condition||Time to Expect Improvement|
|Mild bloating from diet||Within 3 days of dietary changes|
|Food intolerance||Within 1 week of eliminating problem foods|
|IBS||2 to 4 weeks with treatments|
|SIBO||4 to 8 weeks with antibiotics|
|Constipation||1 to 2 weeks with laxatives, fiber, exercise|
|Gastroparesis||6 to 8 weeks with medications, possible gastric pacing|
|IBD||4 to 12 weeks with anti-inflammatory drugs, biologics|
|Lactose intolerance||24 hours after taking lactase enzymes as needed|
For recurring bloating, it can take a few weeks to months to find the right treatment approach. Stay in close contact with your doctor and be patient – it may take some trial and error to resolve bloating. Report any worsening symptoms promptly.
When to Try Elimination Diets
If bloating persists after initial treatment, your doctor may recommend an elimination diet to pinpoint problematic foods. This entails removing potential trigger foods for 1 to 2 weeks, then reintroducing them one at a time.
Elimination diets can help identify intolerances to:
- Nightshade vegetables
- Cruciferous vegetables
- Citrus fruits
- Fatty foods
- Spicy foods
Track your symptoms carefully after reintroducing foods. Bloating within 2 to 3 hours indicates a likely intolerance. An elimination diet is most useful for people with IBS or suspected food allergies.
Can Probiotics Help Bloating?
Probiotics may help relieve bloating in some cases by optimizing the balance of gut bacteria. They work best for bloating caused by:
- Antibiotic use
- Infectious diarrhea
Look for probiotics with specific strains like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Take them consistently for 2 to 4 weeks to notice effects. Probiotics are generally safe to try, but consult your doctor if you have immune deficiencies.
When to Consider Prescription Medications
If you have chronic, debilitating bloating, your doctor may prescribe medications like:
- Antibiotics for SIBO
- Antispasmodics for IBS
- Tricyclic antidepressants
These medications can provide substantial relief when other treatments fail. Work with your doctor to weigh the benefits and risks. Report any concerning side effects promptly.
Know When to Seek Emergency Care
Severe, worsening bloating may require emergency care, especially if you have:
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heart rate
- Fever and vomiting
- Bloating that started after trauma
- Bloating during pregnancy
These symptoms could indicate a medical emergency like a bowel obstruction, perforation, or preeclampsia. Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe, acute-onset bloating accompanied by concerning symptoms.
Preventing Bloating Recurrence
Making long-term diet and lifestyle changes can go a long way towards preventing recurring bloating after your symptoms resolve. Try to:
- Follow a low FODMAP diet
- Limit gas-producing foods
- Take digestive enzymes with meals
- Take probiotics daily
- Exercise regularly
- Drink peppermint tea
- Reduce stress through relaxation techniques
- Get enough sleep
It may take some trial and error to find the right combination of preventive strategies. Stick with changes for 2 to 3 months to see if your bloating remains resolved.
When to Try Alternative Therapies
Some people find relief from chronic bloating through complementary health approaches like:
- Herbal remedies
- Ginger supplements
- Peppermint oil
- Fennel tea
Discuss trying alternative therapies with your doctor first. Tell them about any herbal supplements you take. While alternative approaches are generally safe, they aren’t well proven for bloating yet.
When to Follow Up With Your Doctor
Schedule a follow up appointment if:
- Your bloating lasts more than 4 weeks after initial treatment
- Lifestyle changes and medications aren’t helping
- You develop concerning symptoms like blood in stool, fever, vomiting, chest pain
- Your bloating returns after a period of relief
Recurring, persistent bloating may require further testing and a medication adjustment. Be diligent about follow up care if symptoms don’t resolve. Tell your doctor about any changes in your condition promptly.
Mild bloating after eating or during your period should resolve within 1 to 2 days. See your doctor for bloating lasting more than 3 days or accompanied by other symptoms. Chronic bloating can take 2 to 8 weeks to improve with treatment. Lifestyle changes, medications, probiotics, and alternative therapies may help. Stay in touch with your doctor if symptoms persist or return after a period of relief. With a little patience and diligence, you should be able to get troubling bloating under control.