Oh, the irony that one of the major symptoms of menopause ends up making a woman look pregnant: The Bloat. Gas during perimenopause and menopause is common, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. And it’s our Symptom of the Month.

Define “menopause bloat”

Most women report it as a feeling of tightness or fullness in the abdomen, sometimes painful, always uncomfortable. Some women have it only occasionally or with certain foods or different points in their cycle. Others will have it daily, starting the morning with a flat stomach that gets progressively more bloated throughout the day.

Menopause bloat generally has two causes: excess air or excess water and sometimes both at once. Women may experience an uptick in burping and flatulence.

What gives us gas in menopause?  

That extra air in your stomach and gastrointestinal tract is either swallowed or created by the fermentation of food in your stomach. There are a few culprits – some hormonal, some lifestyle.

One: Digestion. Gas can result from a general slowing of your digestion – many women experience constipation during this time for the same reason. This slowing means food has time to ferment in the digestive tract before it’s expelled from the body.

Two: Diet. Many women experience weight gain in menopause and so switch their diet to include more fruits and veggies. These can cause gas, certainly at first, before the body adapts to the increase in fiber.

Three: Air. Often women experiencing dry mouth or weight gain start chewing more gum. The artificial sweeteners in sugar-free gums can cause some women stomach problems, and the extra air you swallow as you chew will find its own way back out. Fizzy drinks like sodas or carbonated water can also increase the air in your gut, as can smoking – another reason (yet another!) to quit if you can.

Four: Eating habits. At this busy time of life when you may have to grab meals when you can, you may be eating too much or too quickly. Smaller meals enjoyed at a reasonable pace will result in less buildup of food (and therefore gas) in your digestive system.

Five: Stress. Stress takes a toll on everything, including digestion. When bad enough, it can switch off your digestion, turning your gut into a cauldron.

Six: Flora. Menopause can prompt changes in the bacteria of your gut – the flora that help break down your food.

How can we reduce the gas?

Happily, there are some simple things you can do to lessen the gas and the bloat.

One: Chew. A lot. Chewing prompts your stomach to ramp up production of digestive enzymes, says A. Vogel, so it’s ready to start digesting as soon as the food splashes down, so to speak. It also slows you down if you eat too fast, and it may encourage you to eat less if you get bored with chewing each mouthful 20 times. 

Two: Drink. There is a persistent belief out there that drinking too much liquid with a meal dilutes digestive juices and makes them less effective. According to Healthline, there’s no real science to support this notion. The stomach is able to adapt to the content of meals, including water intake, and in fact, water may help the digestive process operate more smoothly.

Three: Exercise. Exercise can reduce stress and improve digestion, so keep moving so that everything, well, keeps moving. 

Four: Eat well. Yes, many healthy foods can contribute to the problem: beans, broccoli, pears, and whole-wheat bread among them. Cutting way back on the foods that cause the most problems, then slowly reintroducing them one at a time may help you tolerate them better. Fried and fatty foods can cause additional problems, says Nature’s Intentions Naturopathic Clinic, so limit those. If you think your gut flora may be compromised, pre- and probiotics can help. Eat slowly and when you're not under stress (eg: not behind the wheel of your car as you dash to a meeting or soccer game).

Five: Know your triggers. Many women report issues with dairy, gluten, refined sugar, and artificial sweeteners, so test your tolerance and eat accordingly. We can become more sensitive to foods as we age, so don’t assume something you ate safely and in great quantity as a youngster will be as well tolerated now.

Six: Drink peppermint tea. Peppermint is an effective, time-honored digestive aid. Plus it tastes really good. If you’re prone to heartburn, go easy on the peppermint, however.

What else could cause the gas?

Gas can be caused by other health concerns, so be sure to talk with a doc if the development of gas is sudden, painful, extreme, comes with weight loss, diarrhea or constipation, and/or is disrupting your life.

Other possible causes include …

SIBO. According to Bastyr Center for Natural Health, a too-high concentration of bacteria in the small intestine can be the underlying cause for many digestive issues. A breath test can help you determine if this is causing your digestive issues.

IBS. “Irritable bowel syndrome” refers to a group of symptoms that generally cause abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements.

GERD or “gastroesophageal reflux disease” is a condition in which the stomach contents flow backward up the esophagus.

Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder in which the presence of gluten causes the body to attack its own small intestine. Subsequent damage to the villi, the lining of the small intestine, can keep nutrients from being absorbed correctly.

While a little extra intestinal gas may not be detrimental to your health, it can sure disrupt your working and social life. If you're dealing with digestive issues, check with a doc, consider keeping a food journal to help you track triggers, and try to maintain a sense of humor. And maybe get a dog. You can always blame it on the dog. 

Have you experienced increased gas or bloat during this time of your life? What did you do to fix it, or did it improve over time? As ever, we’d love for you to share your experience (and even better, your solutions!) with the community. Leave us a comment below, or talk to us on our Facebook page or in Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group.