Those rumbling and gurgling sounds from your stomach – are they a sign of hunger, indigestion or something more serious? Eva Alsheik, M.D., a gastroenterologist at Henry Ford Health, frequently hears these questions from her patients.
“These noises are normal, as long as they aren’t accompanied by other gastrointestinal symptoms, such as pain, nausea, excessive bloating, distention, diarrhea or constipation,” she says.
Here Dr. Alsheik explains what causes these stomach sounds, ways to reduce stomach rumblings and minimize discomfort, and when you should see a doctor for a medical evaluation.
What Causes Stomach Noises?
The noises your stomach makes, called borborygmi, are normal intestinal sounds that occur during the digestive process.
“The smooth muscles that line the gut contract and squeeze food and gas through 30 feet of small intestine and large intestine. This process, called peristalsis, generates stomach sounds,” Dr. Alsheik says. “Even when you can’t easily hear these noises, your doctor can hear this digestive activity with a stethoscope.”
Dr. Alsheik educates patients about factors that may increase stomach noises and cause mild discomfort during digestion. These causes include:
- Dairy products: Approximately 65% of people are lactose intolerant, meaning they have difficulty digesting lactose, the main carbohydrate sugar in dairy products.
- Legumes: Foods such as beans, peas, lentils and peanuts have carbohydrates that are difficult for some people to digest.
- Cruciferous vegetables: Brussel sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, broccoli and other green leafy vegetables can be harder for the digestive system to break down.
- Artificial sweeteners: Diet carbonated beverages and sugarless gums and candies that contain artificial sugars, such as sorbitol and fructose, can be harder to digest.
Each day, you swallow air that moves through your digestive tract. You swallow more air when you sip from a straw, drink a carbonated beverage or smoke.
We each have millions of healthy bacteria in our guts that help break down and absorb the food that we eat. This process releases hydrogen and methane gases, which can cause increased gut sounds, bloating and other gastrointestinal symptoms. If you have an overgrowth of unfavorable bacteria (called dysbiosis of the gut), those gut sounds may be more severe.
Anxiety may affect your digestion. For example, you may wake up in the morning and feel some stomach discomfort, causing you to worry about how to manage your daily tasks and activities. This increase in stress can then cause more gastrointestinal symptoms.
“Now more than ever, people are in tune with how the food they eat affects their digestion. However, it is important to look at all factors that may be contributing to digestive issues,” says Dr. Alsheik.
How To Reduce Stomach Noises
Dr. Alsheik suggests these steps to quiet stomach rumblings and relieve mild indigestion:
- Change your diet: Avoid or reduce portions of foods that cause excessive stomach noises or discomfort.
- Natural remedies: Consider adding ginger chews, peppermint-flavored foods or cinnamon to your diet to help calm digestive noises.
- Add probiotics: To improve the number of favorable bacteria in your gut, you can try an over-the-counter probiotic. Or you can eat foods rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, kimchi and kombucha.
- Manage stress: Meditation and breathing exercises are some of the ways you can reduce stress before it escalates and causes more serious digestive problems.
When To See A Doctor
It’s important to pay attention to your body and recognize when you may need medical care.
Dr. Alsheik recommends seeing a doctor if you have bothersome stomach noises along with any of these symptoms:
“These symptoms may be signs of a wide range of gastrointestinal disorders, including an intestinal blockage, inflammatory bowel disease, malabsorption disorder (such as celiac disease) or a motility disorder, which is when someone has digestive problems because the nerves or muscles of the gut aren't working in a coordinated way,” says Dr. Alsheik.
Dr. Eva Alsheik is a gastroenterologist and is the director of the Center for Motility Disorders at Henry Ford. She sees patients at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit and at Henry Ford Medical Center - Columbus.