A poorly timed gurgle from your stomach at a meeting with your boss or on a first date may be embarrassing, but many times, your body just can't help it. It's totally normal to hear gurgling, growling and rumbling noises coming from your stomach and gastrointestinal (GI) system.
Why Your Tummy Sounds Off
"There's a medical word for these bowel sounds: It's called borborygmus," says Joseph Fiorito, MD, chair of gastroenterology at Danbury Hospital in Danbury, Connecticut. The reasons for the rumbling can be attributed to specific foods, eating habits and, occasionally, an underlying GI condition.
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The reason why your stomach is making noise has everything to do with your body's natural anatomy. "The inside of your abdomen is not a fixed place," says Dr. Fiorito. "It moves around, so when you eat something, your stomach contracts, affecting the motility and movement of food and drink." This could mean that you hear what sounds like liquids sloshing in your stomach. You may also hear gurgling when air passes through your GI system after you've eaten solid food. "A lot of this is normal, though some people may be more sensitive or in tune with it than others," he says.
But there are those times when you haven't eaten anything and you still hear growling. Is it really your stomach alerting you that it's lunchtime? "If your stomach growls when you're not eating, it's due to what's called a mass movement contraction that occurs from your stomach down through your colon," explains Dr. Fiorito. "It's designed to clean your bowel of air between meals."
Should You Worry?
There are other potential causes for a noisy GI system, most notably underlying medical conditions, which are often accompanied by excess gas, says Dr. Fiorito. (More gas may equal more noise.) Some are easily addressed with simple habit switches, while others require a visit to your doctor. These causes include:
- Lactose intolerance. As undigested milk proteins are fermented by bacteria, gas and bloating result.
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), a condition when there's excess bacteria in the small intestine marked by bloating, gas and abdominal pain, notes Johns Hopkins Medicine.
- Poor absorption of sugars, including lactose, fructose and sucrose. Additionally, there are some foods that can give you terrible gas, like broccoli, cabbage and beans.
- Eating sugar substitutes, such as aspartame, stevia or saccharin.
- Celiac disease, which Beyond Celiac explains is an autoimmune disorder triggered by consuming gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley and rye. Symptoms include bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, joint pain and mood problems. If you do not have celiac disease, going on a gluten-free diet may not be beneficial to you.
- Swallowing too much air, something that can happen from eating or drinking quickly, sipping from a straw, talking too fast or chewing gum.
A Remedy for Rumbling
If you're worried about noises coming from your stomach, Dr. Fiorito recommends first watching your diet and removing the things that can cause more gas and bloating, such as sugar substitutes. A food diary may come in handy here. You may also consider looking at the low-FODMAP diet, a diet used to manage symptoms in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and well documented in a February 2017 study in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology. It limits sugars that are fermented in the gut and that can produce symptoms like gas.
He also advises some of his patients to take a probiotic supplement to see if it helps with their GI symptoms. Slowing down your rate of eating and chewing food completely before swallowing, may also be helpful. If these steps don't work, over-the-counter medications with simethicone can relieve gas. Of course, if bothersome gurgling persists or you're concerned for any reason, talk to your doctor.
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.