co-written by Rick Olazabal, BSc, BN
Is your stomach growling? Are you hungry? Eating may solve that one.
You ate something and now it’s making funny stomach noises? Is that normal?…
In order to digest food, our digestive tract needs to mix the contents of our diet, and in order to absorb the nutrients, such mix needs to move down the tract. As food passes through the stomach and into the intestines it moves in a rhythmic (known as peristalsis) manner. This movement of liquified food from one end to the next is what contributes to these bowel sounds, also known as borborygmus. This article will touch base on the basic principles of digestion and what you need to know about stomach noises.
Why is my stomach making noises?
Firstly, it’s not just the stomach that is making all the noise. Most of it comes from the intestines. Bowel sounds are usually a normal finding, and often inaudible, but it is true that for some people—depending on the setting or circumstances—this can be rather embarrassing.
For sounds to be heard there has to be muscular contraction of the bowel in addition to the presence of liquid and/or gas. In other words, your bowels are making noise when the bowels are trying to move its content; if the content is gas—as is the case when you haven’t eaten—food can often alleviate the issue; in the absence of nausea, pain and/or fever, if the noises are heard after a meal, then bowels are doing what they need to do. The exceptions to this will be elaborated upon below, and they have to do conditions such as those of malabsorption, dyspepsia, and infection.
Is it normal or not to have stomach noises?
This actually depends. Do you have any other accompanying symptoms? For example, nausea, fever, abdominal pain? If you do, then seek medical attention, this is clearly not normal. An absence of sound may indicate a bowel obstruction—which is a medical emergency. However, hyperactive (i.e. too many or very fast) sounds can also be found in obstructions, though most commonly associated with malabsorption conditions, and diarrhea.
During diarrhea, there is an increase in rhythmic contraction (i.e. peristalsis) of the intestines that is coupled with the accumulation of fluid and gas in the bowels. This happens because your intestines are unable to absorb food (due to damage or infection) and contents in the bowels draw water into it, then your body tries to get rid of it as fast as it can, thus amplifying the rumble and growling.
Some malabsorption conditions, like celiac disease (i.e. gluten-sensitive enteropathy), are associated with increased bowel sounds. Other conditions may include lactose intolerance—due to reduced levels of the enzyme needed to digest the milk sugar lactose—which allows lactose to reach the colon intact where it is metabolized by bacteria (producing gas), and just like diarrhea, what does not get absorbed draws water to it resulting in softer stools.
Hyperactive sounds can also be heard in an obstruction of the bowels. As stated earlier, this is emergency, so getting to a hospital would be very prudent! During an obstruction occurs, however, symptoms tend to be very obvious and pain can be quite pronounced. The sounds are due to an increase in contractions as the body attempts to force the bowel contents through a narrowing of the intestine.
Quick tips to get rid of these annoying stomach noises.
In the absence of symptoms that would indicate a problem (e.g. pain, fever, nausea, diarrhea, etc.) there are no specific treatments for these rumbles. This is usually a normal physiologic process. However, eating regularly, calmly, and chewing your food well can help with better digestion. Adding fibre and fermented products to your diet may also help with this.
Avoiding foods that you know can aggravate your stomach would be wise—this includes gluten for those with a known sensitivity; lactose for those with an intolerance; artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, and other sugars, etc. Checking on your stress would also be helpful. We know that irritable bowel syndrome is closely linked to levels of stress and anxiety—exercise can help reduce stress and anxiety. If you do have other symptoms, seek the advice of a qualified health care provider; otherwise, bon appetite!