Are You Bloated or Constipated?

"Stiff and distended abdomen with immense discomfort and restlessness".

Is it bloating or constipation?


Many people misunderstand what the two entail.

Are they the same thing or entirely different conditions?


For starters, Bloating is a digestive symptom, while on the other hand, constipation is a condition that can cause bloating.


Now to the main meal where you'll learn and understand the nitty-gritty of bloating and its relationship to constipation.

What is Bloating?

Bloating happens when gas accumulates in the gut to create a feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen. It is one of the most common digestive symptoms and is usually accompanied by:


Pain or discomfort

Frequent farting


Abdominal noises or rumbling

Full and stiff abdomen.

How Bloating Happens

Quite several mechanisms have been postulated to be responsible for bloating. These bloating mechanisms include:


Abnormal gut microflora: usually, the gut contains lots of microorganisms that aid digestion and maintain its health. When the gut becomes colonized by non-gut organisms, they act on gut content and produce gas that leads to bloating.


Impaired intestinal motility: some scientific experiments reveal that reduced gut motility increases bloating. This impaired motility slows down the transit time of ingested food and provides more time for microorganisms to ferment gut content and release gas.


Malabsorption or food intolerance: certain foods tend to cause symptoms like bloating when the body lacks enzymes to digest them. For example, lactose-intolerant people have difficulty digesting milk. This can release gas to cause bloating when microorganisms act on undigested milk.


Hormones: bloating occurs in some menstruating women because of hormonal changes in the menstrual cycle. These hormones affect gut motility.

Causes of Bloating

Bloating can be caused by foods such as beans, wheat, onions, carbonated drinks, dairy products etc. These foods are called FODMAP diets. They contain certain sugars that are not easily digested and are fermentable by gut organisms.


Another cause of bloating is underlying medical conditions in a person.

Examples include:



Irritable Bowel Syndrome 

Inflammatory Bowel Disease 

Food intolerance e.g Lactose intolerance 

Hormonal changes, etc.


These medical conditions cause bloating following any of the mechanisms mentioned earlier. 


Let's look at constipation more closely.

What is Constipation?

Constipation is a condition of infrequent bowel movement and difficulty in passing stool. In constipation, you have less than 3 bowel movements per week. It is characterised by symptoms such as:


Pain or straining while passing stool

Lumpy, hard, and dry stool


In some chronic cases, it may present with vomiting, lower back pain, and rectal bleeding.

Causes of Constipation

Constipation can be due to factors from within or outside the part of the intestines called the colon.


Factors from within the colon include:

Obstruction by tumours in the intestines 

Slow colonic motility 

Neurological disorders such as Chagas disease and Hirschsprung's disease


Factors from outside the colon include:

Reduced water intake

Low consumption of fibre-containing foods like fruits and vegetables

Little or no physical activity

Resisting the urge to visit the toilet

Excessive intake of alcohol or coffee

Medications like Antidepressants, Iron supplements, and Opioids.

How to Prevent Bloating

Bloating comes with so much discomfort and it's better to prevent it before it becomes something to bother about. Activities that help you prevent bloating can also help you avoid constipation, especially when caused by factors outside the colon.


Modify your diet: your diet composition plays an important role in your gut health. To prevent bloating, avoid high-FODMAP foods or foods that you are intolerant to. Eat more fruits and vegetables.

Exercise regularly: increased physical activity will increase bowel movement and make it easy to eliminate gas and easily pass stool. Walking, jogging or trying out some yoga poses can help you.

Drink more water: instead of drinking alcohol and carbonated drinks, take more water to aid your bowel movement.

Eat probiotics: probiotics are good bacteria that are similar to the normal gut microflora. They help to maintain gut health, boost immunity and aid digestion. Greek yoghurt is a good probiotic. It contains bacteria that break down lactose and is safe for lactose-intolerant persons.

Forgo chewing gum: if you feel bloated too often, chewing gum is something you need to avoid. Gums contain sugars that are FODMAPs. Chewing gum also makes you swallow air which increases gas in your gut.

Eat slowly and don't use straws to avoid swallowing air that can cause gas to accumulate.

Over-the-counter medications such as Laxatives, Bismuth salicylate, and Simethicone can provide relief if you are already bloated.

Regularly visit your doctor and comply with your medications if you have any underlying medical condition that causes bloating. 

The Takeaway

Bloating is a symptom of many digestive conditions like constipation. Constipation involves difficulty in passing stool and infrequent bowel movements. If you have signs suggestive of bloating, you may have constipation or some other medical condition. If the symptoms persist longer than usual or present with symptoms like bleeding, you should visit your doctor immediately.



Glorious Kate Akpegah

Glorious Kate Akpegah is a medical student at the University of Calabar. She enjoys writing health and wellness articles to help inform the public and promote a healthy lifestyle.

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