What You Need to Know About Bloating, Gas, and Colon Cancer
Nearly everyone suffers from abdominal bloating and gas at one time or another. From lactose intolerance to mild food allergies to eating too much fiber, the causes of intestinal bloating and gas are many. If bloating and gas are so common, when should you worry about them?
Everyday Causes of Bloating and Gas
Bloating and gas are non-specific symptoms, which means that they can have a lot of causes, the majority of which are not serious. This includes:
- Lactose intolerance
- Intolerance to other foods
- Mild food allergies
- Eating gas-producing foods such as broccoli, cabbage, or beans
- Too much fiber in the diet without enough water to help your body digest it
- Eating too many fatty or greasy foods
- Eating too many sugar-free foods that contain the sweetener sorbitol
- Chewing gum which can cause some people to swallow air
- For women, just before or during the onset of the menstrual period
Even if your bloating and gas are not caused by something serious, you'll want to figure out what is causing them. Your doctor or a dietitian (ask your doctor for a referral) can help you come up with a dietary plan to minimize the occurrence of bloating and gas.
Sometimes, however, bloating and gas can signal something more serious, such as:
- Colon cancer
- Inflammatory Bowel Disease
- Celiac disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- A blockage somewhere in the intestinal tract
- Fecal impaction
When Bloating and Gas Signal Something More Serious
While bloating and gas are a normal occurrence from time to time, you shouldn't ignore these symptoms if they are long-lasting, you experience them frequently, or they are accompanied by other symptoms of colon cancer, such as blood in your stools, constipation, diarrhea, or thin stools ("pencil stools"). In these cases, make an appointment to see your doctor to get to the bottom of your symptoms.
If you suffer from chronic or intermittent bloating and gas, the sooner you get a diagnosis, the better. With colon cancer, for example, if it is diagnosed in the earliest stages, survival rates are well over 90%. If the cancer is more advanced and has spread beyond the colon, survival rates drop dramatically.
In many cases, you will learn that you do not have colon cancer and that something less serious is causing your bloating and gas. But it is better to err on the side of caution and get it checked out.
See Your Doctor About Bloating and Gas If:
- Three or more days have passed since your last bowel movement; two days if you have used a laxative
- You have bloating and gas for two or more weeks, either the entire two weeks, or off and on; you know your body, so seek medical attention sooner if you don't feel well; there is no need to wait two full weeks
- You see blood in or on your stool
- Your bloating and gas are accompanied by other symptoms indicating a more serious condition, such as other changes in bowel habits, constipation, diarrhea, or blood in your stools
- You have persistent cramps or severe abdominal or rectal pain
- You are vomiting in association with bloating and gas or for longer than a day or two
- You are frequently or regularly constipated or regularly experience diarrhea
American Cancer Society. How is Colorectal Cancer Diagnosed? Accessed July 21, 2009. http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/content/CRI_2_2_3X_How_is_colorectal_cancer_diagnosed.asp
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearing House. Gas in the Digestive Tract. Accessed July 22, 2009. http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gas/