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How to Feel Better Faster When Belly Bloat Strikes

The “U massage” might just change your life.

Bloating can be a real b*tch, particularly since there are so many triggers that occasional flare-ups are difficult to sidestep.

‘It’s normal to get a little abdominal distention after eating,’ says board-certified gastroenterologist Michelle Cohen, M.D., of the physical condition. ‘But sometimes, it can be painful and uncomfortable, and the success of the treatment depends on properly identifying the cause.’ Read on for the best way to feel better ASAP based on common triggers:

If you’re constipated

‘There’s only so much the colon can handle if it’s not moving stool out,’ says Dr. Cohen of the traffic jam that occurs when you have trouble going No. 2. The congestion doesn’t just create tension in the bowel walls; it gives gut bacteria time to ferment your stool, which creates gas and a backflow of air that produces the sensation of pressure and bloating, she says.

Try:

Drinking coffee. ‘Caffeine can stimulate the gut and make it move,’ Dr. Cohen says, although she warns that adding milk can provoke further bloating if you’re sensitive to dairy — so adjust your order accordingly. Also note: In excess, caffeine can be dehydrating — and dehydration can stop you up even more.

Taking a walk or going for a run. ‘Getting your heart rate up sends a signal for your colon to move,’ Dr. Cohen says, noting that the bowels, like the heart, need exercise for optimal health, too.

Taking an OTC laxative. When your plumbing is so backed up that none of the above budge your bowels, consider an oral laxative to move things along. Look for sodium phosphate among the ingredients: it draws water into the bowel to soften the stool and make it easier to pass, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration notes. If you have no success after one dose, don’t take another, and call your doctor.

If you overate

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‘There’s only so much room inside your body,’ Dr. Cohen says, explaining that your organs can’t stretch indefinitely when your portions push the limit, or you eat so fast you swallow excess air. ‘Bloating isn’t just about what you eat but how you eat it,’ Dr. Cohen says.

Try:

Giving yourself a ‘U massage.’ Beginning on the lower right side of your abdomen, press up toward your ribs, across to your left side, and back down in a U-shape. ‘It’s the direction things need to move through the colon,’ Dr. Cohen says of the technique, which traces the colon’s path toward the rectum. Repeat for a few minutes to feel less full.

Drinking peppermint tea. ‘It has medicinal properties,’ Dr. Cohen says of peppermint, which is easily consumed in a tea. Its active ingredient facilitates gut movement, relaxes gut nerves, resets the bacterial balance of the gut, and/or work its magic in other ways to provide relief. Fennel and ginger — either in tea or in OTC supplements — also may help, but consult your doctor before jumping on the bandwagon.

If you ate something your body can’t process

‘Just because you’re eating healthy doesn’t mean you can’t get gastrointestinal symptoms,’ she says. Exhibit A: Foods high in dietary fibre, a component of food that can’t be digested. Sure, eating ample insoluble fibre (found in whole grains and most veggies) can bulk up your bowel moments and help stool exit your body. But eating too much of it, or eating soluble fibre (found in beans, legumes, nuts, and fruits), can back up the colon, where it’s fermented by gut bacteria to produce gas, says Dr. Cohen.

The same goes for foods containing one of the simple carbs grouped under the acronym, ‘FODMAPs,’ (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides, and Polyols) which some people struggle to absorb. Found in items like milk, yogurt, soft cheeses, wheat, onions, garlic, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar-free sweets, stone fruits, and more, FODMAPs can lead to gas, abdominal pain, and bloating in some people. (It all depends on your sensitivity.)

Try:

Popping an OTC anti-gas pill. It creates a chemical reaction that breaks gas down so you don’t have to wait for the air you swallowed to move through the colon for relief, according to Dr. Cohen, who warns that this won’t help unless gas is the underlying cause of your discomfort.

Avoiding foods that mess with you. Moving forward, if you eliminate the correct cause, you won’t suffer from the effects.

If you’re getting your period

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During the second half of your cycle, levels of the female hormone progesterone increase, which could contribute to fluid retention that makes you feel bloated, says Christine Greves, M.D. The symptom can be a pillar of pre-menstrual symptom, lasting for up about six days a month — particularly if you’re not on birth control, which levels hormone fluctuations, she says.

Try:

Cranking up your heating pad. ‘It can often soothe discomfort,’ Dr. Greves says of the symptoms triggered by the hormones you can’t exactly control.

Applying peppermint oil. Add just a drop or two of the essential oil, which is highly concentrated, to a dollop of your regular body lotion, and apply topically to the abdomen for relief when bloating hits.

Doing a gentle yoga flowIf you don’t feel like an intense workout, which can increase circulation and relieve cramps and bloating, according to Dr. Greves, relaxation techniques like yoga can do the trick. The stretching and moving also can help you move your bowels to ease bloating linked to constipation and gas, Dr. Cohen adds.

If you’ve recently had a stomach bug or returned from a holiday

A stomach virus or bacterial infection and course of antibiotics can upset your gut’s bacterial balance, Dr. Cohen says — and the same goes for travel, which exposes you to different environments and foods containing bacteria makeup you may not be used to. It also shakes up your regular eating and sleeping routine, which can contribute to constipation and make you feel even more off.

Try:

Taking a probiotic pill. Popping this OTC remedy pill daily for up to two weeks can help reestablish the good/bad bacterial balance in your gut, Dr. Cohen says, noting that the downside is negligible.

If you’re stressed, anxious, or down

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Because your mental state can alter the way your brain communicates with your gut, Dr. Cohen says, stress can affect the way you interpret bloating, making you more sensitive to the stretching of your intestinal walls and prone to visceral pain.

Try:

Talking to your doctor about a low-dose antidepressant. It can heal the brain-gut miscommunication that accentuates your discomfort, Dr. Cohen says, and quite possibly improve your quality of life, according to a 2014 review of existing research.

If you’ve tried everything and still can’t beat bloat

‘See a doctor to make sure it’s not something else,’ Dr. Cohen says, noting that although bloating is a side effect of eating among most people, in rare cases (when accompanied by pain or weight loss, particularly in women over 50), chronic bloating can be a sign of ovarian cancer or another abdominal cancer. It also can be a symptom of Celiac’s Disease, the intolerance to gluten. ‘Everybody’s bloating is different,’ says Dr. Cohen.

This post originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com

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