The menopause and bloating
Menopause is when you stop having periods. It’s a normal part of ageing, but the hormonal changes in your body can cause various symptoms, including bloating.
It’s common to get bloating both during the menopause and the time leading up to it (perimenopause). You may notice a feeling of fullness or tightness in your stomach, a swollen stomach, an increase in burping or gas, or trouble pooing (constipation). You can get a bloated stomach every day, or only occasionally.
Read on to learn what causes menopause belly bloat and how you can treat it, as well as when to see a doctor.
What causes menopausal bloating?
It’s normal to have gas in your bowels – you make lots of it every day when you digest the food you eat. Some of it comes out as wind.
But during the perimenopause and menopause, changing levels of hormones in your body can cause an increase in bloating. Your levels of oestrogen fall, which can affect how your gut works, and there are changes in other hormones, such as cortisol, that help with digestion.
Lifestyle changes during the menopause can also play a part. For example, eating certain foods and being stressed can cause gut problems, including bloating.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), your symptoms may also be worse during the menopause.
Menopause bloating tends to come and go in waves, and can last for days, weeks or months at a time.
When to see a doctor about bloating
Call an ambulance or go to the emergency department if you’re bloated and:
- you can’t stop being sick (vomiting)
- you’re vomiting and it looks like blood or coffee grounds, or it’s bright green
- you can’t keep any fluids down
- you have very bad tummy pain (abdominal pain)
- you have very heavy vaginal bleeding that doesn’t stop
- you have a lot of blood in your poo
- you haven’t peed all day, or you suddenly can’t pee
- your poo looks very black, like tar
You should see your doctor as soon as possible if you have bloating and:
- it’s very bad or keeps coming back
- diarrhoea, or a change in your normal pooing habit that can’t be explained, such as going to the toilet more often, with runny poo
- a high temperature (fever)
- unexplained weight loss
- blood in your poo
- tummy pain, pain in your pelvis, or painful or overnight bloating
- difficulty swallowing food or fluids
- loss of appetite, or you feel full very quickly after eating
- yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes (jaundice)
- you need to pee more often, or you often have to pee urgently
- unusual bleeding from your vagina, including after the menopause
- a lump in your tummy
- you’re over 50
How to stop menopause bloating
There’s not always a simple solution to bloating, as different things work for different people. But there are lots of things that may help ease your symptoms. You can try the following:
- take regular exercise to help improve your digestion. Just a 20-30-minute brisk walk, 4 times a week, can help improve how your bowel works
- cut down on foods that are known to cause wind and bloating, such as beans, onions, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower (but still eat 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day)
- avoid high-fat foods and keep hot, spicy foods to a minimum
- if you have constipation, increase the amount of fibre in your diet (although bear in mind that in some people this can cause more gas and bloating) and drink lots of fluids
- don’t swallow too much air. Don’t talk and eat at the same time, sit down to eat (upright, not slumped over), cut down on fizzy drinks, avoid chewing gum and chew with your mouth closed, so you’re not taking in excess air
- think about the way you eat. Try to create a relaxed environment, as nervous tension can affect your digestion, and eat small, regular meals (perhaps 5-6 a day). Eating a large meal late at night can cause bloating and discomfort, so you may want to try eating your main meal earlier in the day
- after eating, go for a short walk to help move gas around. You can also gently but firmly massage your tummy to help release any trapped wind
- keep a food diary for a week or 2 to work out which foods cause bloating and wind. Note down everything you eat and drink and how it makes you feel. You could then try cutting out certain foods for a short period (4-6 weeks) to see if it helps
- drink plenty of water – around 8-10 cups a day – and limit caffeine from coffee, tea and cola. Avoid fizzy drinks (as these contain gas) and keep alcoholic drinks to a minimum (as these can increase the amount of gas produced)
- avoid sitting for long periods of time. If you sit at work, take regular breaks (at least once every hour) to stretch your legs and tummy
If you’re struggling with menopause symptoms such as bloating, your doctor may suggest hormone replacement therapy (HRT). This replaces the hormones you lose during the menopause and can be effective in treating symptoms, including helping to reduce bloating.
Depending on your symptoms, they may also recommend medication to help prevent bloating and spasm of your bowel muscles. Peppermint tea or capsules can help ease the bloating you get with IBS.
What’s the outlook for menopause bloating?
Bloating linked to the menopause can usually be effectively treated either with lifestyle changes or medication.
After the menopause, once your body settles down to a lower level of hormones, your bloating may well go away. But IBS bloating can still happen postmenopause.
Your health questions answered
Does menopause cause weight gain as well as bloating?
Yes, it can. Changing and falling hormone levels can affect the way you store fat, making your body store, rather than burn, calories. The stress and anxiety that menopause may cause can also lead to weight gain, due to comfort eating and drinking. However, there is no evidence that HRT causes weight gain. Taking regular exercise and eating a healthy diet will help prevent weight gain, as well as improving self-confidence and helping to reduce stress
Is my bloating caused by menopause or ovarian cancer?
Tummy bloating caused by ovarian cancer is usually persistent and doesn’t go away. You may also notice an increase in tummy (abdominal) size and a constant feeling of pain or pressure in the lower part of your abdomen, as well as feeling full very quickly when eating. Other symptoms include weight loss, back pain and lower tummy pain when having sex. Always see a doctor if you have concerns about bloating in the menopause, even if you’ve been diagnosed with an irritable bowel in the past.
- bloating is common during menopause and perimenopause
- it can be caused by hormonal changes in your body
- most cases of bloating can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes
- medication may sometimes be needed, including hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat menopause symptoms
- if you feel bloated all the time or have other symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible