Menopause is the time in a woman's life that signals the end of her menstrual period and childbearing ability. A woman officially enters menopause after a full year without a period.
Perimenopause and menopause symptoms, including uncomfortable bloating, can begin up to 4 years before menopause as hormone levels drop. Fortunately, there are ways to relieve menopausal bloating and discomfort.
Bloating is uncomfortable pressure in the abdominal area caused by extra air or fluid in the gastrointestinal tract. It can feel like fullness or tightness.
In some cases, bloating can cause a person's stomach to swell. A person may also experience temporary weight gain from bloating.
Menopausal bloating normally has one of two main causes: water retention or gas retention. Both can cause bloating during menopause.
A woman's hormone levels frequently fluctuate during perimenopause, which is the time leading up to menopause when a woman's periods are decreasing. Increased estrogen levels can cause water retention, which can in turn cause bloating.
Unfortunately, estrogen is not the only cause of menopause-related bloating. During and after menopause, bloating can also be related to changes in the gastrointestinal tract. These changes can be caused by many things, including:
- changes in diet or appetite
- slowed digestion
- stress related to menopause
- swallowing air
- other health conditions
Any of the above may lead to bloating due to excessive gas.
Water retention and gas retention are two main causes of bloating in the stomach and midsection. It may be difficult to determine which of the two is causing the bloating.
Gas bloating is typically located in the stomach and is the result of trapped air. Often, gas bloating can be prevented by eating slower, not drinking carbonated beverages, and eating smaller meals.
Water retention can occur in more places than gas retention. A woman may notice swelling in her hands and feet, through her midsection, or all throughout her body. Water retention may cause painful bloating in the affected parts of the body.
Similar to gas retention, there are simple steps a woman can take to help reduce swelling and bloating associated with holding onto excessive fluid.
Preventing bloating during menopause can be the best treatment. Fortunately, avoiding bloating can be achieved with a range of easy lifestyle changes, including:
- Staying hydrated. While water retention leads to bloating, hydration keeps the gastrointestinal tract moving smoothly.
- Exercising regularly. Working up a sweat helps relieve water retention and move food through the digestive system.
- Avoiding trigger foods. Foods that cause gas retention include some beans, broccoli, and fatty, fried foods.
- Avoiding carbonated beverages. Carbonated drinks can lead to excess gas in the stomach.
- Not chewing gum. Chewing gum can cause a person to swallow air.
- Quitting smoking. Smoking can cause a person to swallow air, leading to bloating.
- Reducing salt intake. Eating too much salt can cause water retention and swelling. To reduce salt content, a person should avoid processed foods.
- Eating probiotics. Yogurt, sauerkraut, kefir, and other probiotic foods can promote digestive health.
- Eating smaller meals. Larger meals can be hard to digest, especially as the metabolism slows down during menopause.
If a woman finds she suffers from frequent bloating during menopause, there are several medical treatments to relieve the discomfort. Ways to relieve bloating during menopause include:
- using over-the-counter gas medications
- taking prescription water pills and diuretics
- taking hormone replacement therapy
- birth control pills
Bloating, particularly from water retention, can cause weight gain. Sometimes, it can be hard for a woman going through menopause to distinguish between weight gain and bloating.
Menopausal bloating, unlike weight gain, is also often accompanied by a distended, swollen belly and discomfort. Bloating is characterized by:
- rapid onset of weight or size during or after meals
- changes in size and shape to the stomach throughout the day
- short periods of bloating, either after meals or during hormone fluctuations
- discomfort or pain
By contrast, weight gain will come on and stay. Weight gain often happens during menopause as a result of the metabolism slowing and can occur with or without bloating. Weight gain alone does not cause the stomach to distend during the day.
It is typical for a woman to experience bloating during hormone fluctuations associated with her menstrual cycle and menopause. In most cases, bloating that clears up on its own is not a cause for concern.
However, in cases where bloating is prolonged and painful, a woman should speak to her doctor. Painful bloating that lasts for several weeks may indicate other medical conditions that should be diagnosed by a medical professional.
Bloating is a common symptom leading up to menopause and during menopause itself. Hormonal fluctuations are the most common cause of bloating, but other factors can play a role as well.
Fortunately, most bouts of bloating tend to resolve quickly with lifestyle changes and medicinal therapies. Bloating will happen less frequently as the body adjusts to its new normal hormone levels.