stomach floating like balloon

COPD and Bloating: Why and What to Do

“Feeling bloated” is an unexpected – but common – symptom of COPD1. Bloating affects everyone differently, but many people who “feel bloated” report flatulence (gas), frequent burping, and abdominal rumbling2. Although about 20% of the entire population experiences occasional bloating2, for individuals with COPD, extra pressure and gas can make breathing even more difficult.

This month, we reached out to the COPD community to learn more about their experiences with COPD bloating. Keep reading to learn more about how bloating affects people with COPD, what causes COPD bloating, and how to prevent and treat this symptom!

Thoughts from the community

“At rehab the other day, two of us were discussing when our ‘babies’ were due”

“I wish people would realize this and quit asking me if I’m gaining weight”

“Talked to my lung doctor about this bloating and pressure under my rib cage… She didn’t know!”

“Ugh, it’s the worst”

As described by COPD community members, bloating can be frustrating, uncomfortable, and even surprising. Many of you shared stories of talking to your doctors about bloating and abdominal symptoms, only for the doctor to say, “I’ve never heard of COPD bloating”. For some of you, after reading comments by other community members, you were surprised to learn that other people experienced bloating too. Although the physical appearance of bloating can be frustrating, know that you are definitely not alone! Many of our community members experience bloating, and we encourage you to connect with your peers and try some of the strategies below for treating and preventing these symptoms.

Why am I bloated?

“I was just going to a gastrointestinal doctor tomorrow to find out why my stomach is so bloated. Well, now I know”

“I was wondering why I feel so bloated”

There are several causes of COPD bloating:

1. “Long Lungs”

For many people with COPD, the lungs can slowly become hyperinflated (aka over inflated). Hyperinflated lungs are sometimes called “long longs”, and are a result of the lungs becoming less elastic over time or from being unable to fully exhale with each breath3. As the lungs become ‘long’, they take up more room in the body4, leading to more pressure on the stomach, diaphragm, and intestines, which can cause bloating.

Solution: Although most people with COPD have some degree of ‘long lungs’, participating in a pulmonary rehabilitation program can help you breathe better, as well as improve your general health. Many COPD patients also find that learning and practicing breathing strategies helps them to manage their COPD symptoms, including COPD-related bloating.

2. Inactivity

For many COPD patients, feeling tired and out of breath can make exercise and physical activity seem impossible. For this reason, many COPD patients fall into the “de-conditioning cycle”: avoiding physical activity, which may actually make you feel more tired and breathless. Inactivity (or getting little to no exercise) can also lead to COPD bloating.

Solution: In order to combat COPD symptoms and minimize bloating, it is very important to stay active. Be sure to find a physical activity that works best for you! Even a short walk around the house is better than staying seated. Light exercise and regular physical activity may reduce your bloating symptoms, as well as improve your overall health!

3. Difficulty Breathing

For people with COPD, bloating and difficulty breathing can occur in a cycle: Bloating can increase pressure on the lungs, making it harder to breathe. Then, this difficulty breathing can cause you to feel bloated, or make your bloating worse. If you are feeling breathless, you may be more likely to take small, short breaths, which causes you to swallow more air. Swallowing air (known as aerophagia) can cause bloating2.

Solution: For people with COPD, learning and practicing breathing strategies can make a big difference for easier breathing. To manage the cycle of bloating and trouble breathing, check out some of these techniques for better breathing. Breathing strategies are especially important if consider yourself a ‘mouth breather’ or ‘chest breather’, or if you tend to hyperventilate.

4. Medications

Some COPD medications, such as Anoro Ellipta and Spiriva may cause constipation, which can lead to bloating.

Solution: If you experience frequent constipation, consider talking to your doctor about adjusting your medications. You can also ask your medical team about adding more fiber to your diet, or other options for long-term constipation relief. Drinking more water may also help with your constipation symptoms!

5. Diet

  • “I found I was becoming anxious and breathless after a heavy meal, and/or several carbonated drinks”

For people with COPD, eating a large meal can leave you feeling short of breath and bloated. When we eat a large meal, our body requires more energy to digest food, causing shortness of breath4, which can lead to the cycle of bloating and trouble breathing (see above). Eating large meals also expands the stomach, causing your stomach and lungs to fight for space in your body. Even for people who do not have COPD, certain foods and drinks will also cause bloating, such as beans, carbonated drinks, dairy products, and wheat.

“Really eating very small amounts at a time is definitely the answer”

Solution: To avoid diet-related bloating, consider avoiding foods that may cause bloating. Proper nutrition is extremely important for people affected by COPD, so consider talking to your medical team about the best food choices for you. To avoid feeling bloated after eating, be sure to stick to several small meals, rather than three large meals every day. If you’re hungry between meals, have a healthy (non-bloating!) snack, rather than waiting for a huge dinner.

6. Smoking

Although smoking is not directly related to bloating, the most important step to managing your COPD is to quit smoking. In addition to many other health benefits, quitting smoking may help you breathe easier, reducing your likelihood of entering the cycle of shortness of breath and bloating. There are medications to help you quit smoking, as well as online resources and quit smoking support groups for COPD patients.

Moving Forward

To combat COPD bloating, try keeping a journal of when you feel bloated. By writing down your symptoms, you may be able to determine what factors (inactivity, difficulty breathing, medications, or diet) are causing your bloating. Remember, always talk to your medical team before changing your healthcare routines, and join our COPD community to learn more about living a full life with COPD.

View References
  1. Rutten, Erica P.A., et al. "GI Symptoms in Patients with COPD." Chest, vol. 145, no. 6, June 2014, pp. 1437-38, journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1876107. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.
  2. Taiwan, Syed. Abdominal Bloating: A Mysterious Symptom. UNC Center for Functional GI & Motility Disorders, www.med.unc.edu/ibs/files/educational-gi-handouts/Abdominal%20Bloating.pdf. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.
  3. Ferguson, Gary T. "Why Does the Lung Hyperinflate?" ATS Journals, vol. 3, no. 2, 1 Apr. 2006, www.atsjournals.org/doi/full/10.1513/pats.200508-094DO. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.
  4. COPD Foundation. "Short of Breath After Eating." COPD Foundation, www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/Blog/Article/222/Short-of-Breath-After-Eating.aspx. Accessed 24 Apr. 2017.

Comments

View Comments (34)
  • billiekyle
    2 months ago

    Is pulmonx a procedure for copd

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    2 months ago

    billiekyle, thank you for your question! The Zephyr Valve which is designed by Pulmonx is a treatment that has just recently received FDA approval and has not yet been widely used. I do know one of our members recently had the Zephyr Valve procedure done and has indicated she may share her story on the site at some point. Thus far, we do not have much information about it and how people are responding to it as a treatment. I thought this press release from the FDA might be of interest to you: https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm612271.htm If you decide to pursue this as a treatment option, please keep us informed about your experiences! ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • Babs77
    3 months ago

    Hi first time for posting,.I suffer from bloating,waist use to be 22,now 38 inches.I’m taking 2sachets of laquido a day, going to the toilet regularly now ,but still got bloated stomach.
    Only eat small portions, don’t drink any fizzy drinks.Chest feels like I’ve got a belt under my breasts,and it’s being pulled tighter.It feels as if everything I eat just collects,so my stomach gets bigger and bigger,and slowly seeps away during the night , if that makes sense .

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Babs77, I hear you on all of those symptoms and as Leon said, You must discuss this with your doctor because otherwise he will think everything is OK. Please come back and comment on how you are managing. Feel free to reach out anytime. We love your comments. Barbara (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    3 months ago

    Hi Babs77 and welcome and thanks for venturing on with your first post. Yes – everything you’ve said makes sense. We’ve had many comments from community members over the years who have expressed similar sentiments to yours. You are definitely not alone. Have you had an opportunity to discuss this with your physician? Any feedback or suggestions from the doctor on how to manage this? Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Sharona2
    4 months ago

    I have COPD and PKD so I have the long lungs with enlarged kidneys so I have extreme bloating which after reading all of this I suspect my kidneys, lungs and stomach are competing for space. No wonder I’m so bloated and look 8 months pregnant. It is miserable.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    4 months ago

    Hi Sharona2 and thanks for your post in response to this article on bloating. We hear you! It’s not always easy dealing with the issues that accompany COPD. How do you handle the concerns you’ve shared with us? Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • lizlizardrn
    5 months ago

    I take a probiotic suggested by my GI doctor… helps keep my bowels regular!

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    Great idea, lizlizardrn! I’m a big fan myself of probiotics, they do a lot to keep our guts healthy.

    Regards,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • pattyflyingbear
    5 months ago

    Even small amounts of food I’m bloated. Nothing helps

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi pattyflyingbear,
    I think that Lyn Harper has a great idea as it may help you to pin down a cause.
    Barbara Moore Site Moderator)

  • Lyn Harper, RRT moderator
    5 months ago

    pattyflyingbear – That’s too bad! I’m sorry that’s happening. Since it seems to be even small amounts of food, you may find the suggestion of keeping a food journal helpful. Maybe it’s certain types of foods that just don’t agree with you. It’s so frustrating when we can’t find a solution.

    Keep us posted. What you discover may help others.

    Best,
    Lyn (site moderator)

  • Kini
    7 months ago

    I’m glad I found this group. It helps to hear what others feel and what they are experiencing

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    5 months ago

    We are happy you are here too Kini. We are happy to support you here, you are not alone. Just reach out anytime.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Allyson.Ellis moderator
    7 months ago

    We are glad to have you here, Kini! I’m glad this group is such a good source of information and support for you! Please reach out anytime! ~Allyson (COPD.net team)

  • 55panhead
    7 months ago

    So glad this group exists.Maybe I won’t feel so alone now in this battle

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi 55panhead,
    we are glad this group exists and that you are a part of it. You are not alone in this battle.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi 55panhead and glad to hear you find comfort in knowing we exist here! We’re glad to have you as part of our community as well. Please know we are always here for support and information. We’ll look forward to your continued participation. Wishing you the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • gpalmarella moderator
    7 months ago

    @55panhead We’re so happy to be here for support. Please let us know if you need anything. You are not alone! -Graceann (COPD.net Team Member)

  • a24hrsista
    8 months ago

    I have this problem .Wow, thanks for this when i feel bloated I will take a laxative and feel better. Never did i mention it to my doctors Ive learned that many COPD meds cause constipation. I never heard of long lungs til now. Why that never cross my mind before……? Could that be a reason for my belly-fat?

  • Barbara Moore moderator
    5 months ago

    Hi a24hrsista,
    This site will help you through many COPD mysteries. Glad to have you aboard.
    Barbara Moore (Site Moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    8 months ago

    Hi a24hrsista and thanks for your post. When I read what you wrote, I was thinking the same thing (for you). Based on our previous correspondence, I wonder if the ‘belly fat’ you refer to is a type of bloating for you. It’s entirely possible – you may want to run it past your physician(s) to get their opinion. Besides this article (above) on bloating, we have two others you may find to be interesting as well.
    First, Bloating and COPD part 1: https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-1/
    And second, Bloating and COPD part 2: https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-2/

    I’m sure you’ll find these to be helpful as well as you strive to resolve your concern about weight. Warm regards,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Njb
    12 months ago

    A pulmonologist told me I have “barrel chest”, which is a symptom of lungs getting larger from the disease of copd. If you research barrel chest, you will find out more info about it. Unfortunately, it does make you feel like you are pregnant. If female, look for tops that are “tunics” with flair. Helps a lot to “hide”.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    12 months ago

    Hi Njb and thanks for your comment. “Barrel chest” is a term used to describe the appearance of the chest in some patients with COPD. The “barrel chest appearance” is caused by ‘air trapping’ in the lung which is a characteristic of the chronic obstructive nature of the disease. This may occur insidiously over the years, as the residual air that is trapped, causes the chest wall/ribs to expand. This is what creates the ‘barrel’ appearance of the chest. This does not happen to everyone and for some, it is more pronounced than in others. I hope this brief explanation sheds some more light on the concern. All the best, Leon (site moderator)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    7 months ago

    Hi njb and thanks for your response post – it’s our pleasure to provide communication. All patients are affected by diseases differently – no two are identical even though characteristics may be similar. I wish there was a better answer, but that is the explanation. Wishing you well! Leon (site moderator)

  • Njb
    7 months ago

    Thanks for your reply. Why does it happen to some and not others? Any remedy?

  • chrismarshallip
    1 year ago

    this makes very interesting reading. i also suffer from chronic ulceritive colitis which also can give me bloating. so it is very difficult to work out which condition is causing it. probably i will never be able to work it out

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi again, chrismarshallip – we’re glad you find this (article) to be of such interest. If you keep at it, you may actually be able to determine which illness is responsible for the symptoms. Perhaps each plays a part in it. These are concerns you can also address with your physician.
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • Ruthir
    2 years ago

    I have this same problem with bloating. It is extremely uncomfortable and limits what I have to wear. I cannot find pants to fit. The ones with all elastic do not allow me to breathe and if I get them bigger the legs are like balloons. The only kind that work are draw string waist pants but they come in “surgical green”. I don’t go out very often but when I do I like to dress nicely to keep up beat about this horrible disease. I am on oxygen 24/7 with a setting of 2 and have been for a couple of years. Hope someone has an answer for this problem.

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Ruthir – while you may get more personal responses from our community members, perhaps these ideas may help you. As far as the pants with the elastic – would you consider snipping the elastic and then creating your own ‘drawstring’ sort of belt? That might solve that problem.
    As far as the pants that are marketed with the draw string (which you say you can only find in ‘surgical green’), perhaps you could look online for other colors. Working in a hospital (as I do), there are so many colors out there being marketed for ‘surgical scrubs’, you might have more success shopping for a color you prefer.
    What do you think?
    All the best,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • BestiCanDo
    2 years ago

    I am almost continually bloated. I’m stage 4 at least, O2 24/7 @ 5 Lpm. This is extremely problematic! So uncomfortable. I am on Omeprazole 20mg, 1 daily to help. I am housebound and can only get out for Dr appts. Any suggestions for something else to take for this problem?

  • Jenn Patel
    2 years ago

    Hi BestiCanDo and thank you so much for posting. I’m so sorry you’re going through this! While we can’t give medical advice via the internet (for your safety) about what to take for this problem, we encourage you to ask your doctor about this specific situation, if you haven’t already. They should be able to provide you with some answers, and I hope the info in this article is helpful for dealing with it as well! Please do keep us posted on how you’re doing.

    Best,
    Jenn (COPD.net Team)

  • Leon Lebowitz, BA, RRT moderator
    1 year ago

    Hi again chrismarshallip and thanks for your interest in this article on ‘bloating’. In view of your concerns, I thought you might find it helpful to also look over these two articles on this same topic: COPD and bloating:
    First, part 1: https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-1/
    And second, part 2: https://copd.net/living/bloating-part-2/.
    I do hope this provides you with a bit more insight into this aspect of COPD.
    Warmly,
    Leon (site moderator)

  • chrismarshallip
    1 year ago

    interesting article i do suffer from bloating but always put it down to ulceritive colitis which can be a warning of a flair up. or that ive had foods with high fiber. seems i cant win

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