What Causes Bloating and Shortness of Breath?

Abdominal bloating and shortness of breath are common symptoms of several medical conditions. In certain medical conditions such as ascites and gastroparesis, abdominal bloating can result in upward pressure on the diaphragm which inhibits the expansion of lungs, leading to shortness of breath. However, in inflammatory conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, inflammation of the lung tissues can cause respiratory problems leading to shortness of breath along with abdominal bloating. When you experience abdominal bloating and shortness of breath you should approach your doctor who will diagnose the underlying condition causing the symptoms and treat the condition.

Causes of Feeling Bloated and Shortness of Breath  

  1. Ascites

Abdominal bloating and shortness of breath can be symptoms of a condition called Ascites. The organs present in the abdominal cavity are enclosed by a sac or membrane called the peritoneal sac. Under normal conditions, a small amount of fluid is present in the peritoneal sac. However, certain diseases cause increased fluid accumulation which is called ascites. Due to ascites, the accumulated fluid can cause pressure on the diaphragm, resulting in respiratory problems.

Liver diseases such as cirrhosis are the major cause of ascites, as a diseased liver is unable to produce proteins. Presence of proteins in the blood stream helps maintain a pressure gradient that prevents the passage of water from blood vessels to the surrounding tissue. Due to decreased protein production there is accumulation of water in the abdominal cavity.

Ascites also occurs due to cancer in the organs present in the abdominal cavity. Colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer can cause ascites.

It also occurs due to inflammation of peritoneum called peritonitis, congestive heart failure and chronic pancreatitis.

Treating the underlying condition that causes ascites will relieve the problem.    

  1. Excessive Fat on Abdomen

Abdominal obesity can lead to bloated abdomen and shortness of breath. It leads to metabolic syndrome which can increase your risk of developing diseases such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease. It can also decrease lung function even if you have a normal body weight. The excess fat in your belly inhibits the movement of the diaphragm preventing the lungs from expanding. Moreover, the fat in your belly also increases inflammation in your body which harms the lungs. A waistline of more than 35 inches for women and more than 40 inches for men is diagnosed as abdominal obesity. Making lifestyle modifications along with regular exercising will help reduce your abdominal fat.

  1. Meganblase Syndrome

It is a gastrointestinal disorder in which there is chronic belching due to accumulation of gas in the stomach. In meganblase syndrome, after consuming a heavy meal, you will experience belching due to swallowing of large amount of air. You will also have difficulty in breathing. The symptoms may appear severe and may resemble a heart attack. The condition is treated by dietary modifications and medications. You may be asked to avoid starchy foods and high fiber containing foods. Bloated and shortness of breath are common symptoms of meganblase syndrome.

  1. Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition which can cause abdominal bloating and shortness of breath. It affects lungs, pancreas, kidneys, liver and intestine.

In cystic fibrosis there is a genetic defect in the cystic fibrosis transmembrane conductance regulator (CFTR) protein which leads to thickening of the secretions in the body.

In the lungs there is buildup of thick mucus which clogs the airways which results in inflammation and infection in the lungs.

The secretions in the pancreas are also thickened, leading to clogging of the pancreatic ducts. This causes inflammation of the pancreas and decreased flow of digestive enzymes to the intestines. The digestion of food in the intestines is affected which leads to abdominal bloating, back tracking of the contents of the stomach into the food tube and rectal prolapse.

The gallbladder is also affected in cystic fibrosis due to the buildup of thick mucus and formation of gall stones. Cystic fibrosis also causes liver cirrhosis and reproductive problems.

There is no cure for the condition. It is managed by medications and in severe cases lung transplantation is recommended. 

  1. Irritable Bowel Syndrome

It is a condition that affects the large intestine. The symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome include abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, constipation, mucus in the stool and respiratory complications leading to shortness of breath.

The cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not known.

Irritable bowel syndrome occurs due to an inflammatory disorder which majorly affects the bowels. Other organs including the respiratory system may also be affected. 

Changes in diet, medication and lifestyle modifications are advised to manage irritable bowel syndrome. Bloated and shortness of breath can appear in irritable bowel syndrome.

  1. Ileus and Small Bowel Obstruction

Ileus is a condition wherein there is a block in your intestine preventing passage of food. It most commonly occurs in the small intestine which is involved in digesting food.

Small bowel obstruction occurs due to presence of intestinal tumors, twisting of the intestine (volvulus) and hernias which block the intestine.

Paralytic ileus appears in certain conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, taking narcotic medications, certain infections and post pelvic surgery. In paralytic ileus, the muscles of the intestine slow down and prevent the smooth passage of food.  

In children, paralytic ileus results from electrolyte deficiency, low potassium levels, and decreased abdominal blood supply.

Apart from abdominal bloating and shortness of breath, other symptoms of ileus are abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, back pain, bad breath, constipation, jaundice, diarrhea and dizziness.

The condition is treated by medication, lifestyle changes and surgery. The underlying disease that causes the condition is also diagnosed and treated. 

  1. Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis or delayed gastric emptying can lead to abdominal bloating and shortness of breath. Generally, strong contractions of muscle propel food in the digestive tract. However, in gastroparesis, the motility of the stomach is slowed down and your stomach is not emptied properly.

The cause is usually not known. It may occur as a complication of diabetes or after surgery.  

Gastroparesis leads to respiratory problems such as bronchospasm (shortness of breath and wheezing), laryngitis and chronic cough. Gastroparesis increases acid reflux leading to the irritation of the wind pipe and lungs causing respiratory problems.

Apart from bloated and shortness of breath, gastroparesis causes vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, lack of appetite, weight loss and fluctuations in blood sugar.

The condition is treated by medication and lifestyle modification.   

  1. Constipation

Constipation is a condition when you have few bowel movements or when your stools are very hard and do not pass out easily. The number of bowel movements per day varies from person to person. However, if you do not have a bowel movement for more than 3 days then you are severely constipated.

The symptoms of constipation include abdominal bloating, passing hard or small stools and a feeling of incomplete bowel movements. Constipation leads to hemorrhoids, anal fissures and fecal impaction (fecal contents stagnate in the rectum).

Severe constipation results in upward pressure on the diaphragm, decreasing the size of the lungs, causing shortness of breath.

Constipation is usually treated by diet and lifestyle modifications and medications. The underlying condition causing constipation is also diagnosed and treated. 

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