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May 26, 2023

7 Signs Your Gurgling Stomach Could Be Something More

From pain to changes in bowel movements, these 7 signs could mean your gurgling stomach is something more serious than normal digestion.
Written by
Caitlin Beale
Medically Reviewed by
Dr. Anshul Gupta

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Aside from being disruptive, a gurgling stomach isn’t necessarily anything to worry about. Borborygmi, the scientific term for that growling or gurgling sound, can come from your stomach or intestines due to hunger or as a normal part of the digestive process. (Source)

Usually, borborygmi is simply a sign that your digestive system is working or that you need to eat something. But if you notice an increasing pattern accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time to take a closer look at what may be happening in your gut. In this article you’ll learn why your body makes these sounds, and when to suspect it might be something more serious.

Gurgling Stomach — What’s Normal?

Your gastrointestinal (GI) tract is approximately 30 feet long and lined by smooth muscles that rhythmically contract. These contractions — called peristalsis — help break down food and propel it through your digestive system. (Source)

As a normal part of the digestive process peristalsis speeds up when you’ve eaten, and turns on again a few hours after you’ve eaten to remind you to eat again. If you haven’t eaten for a few hours, cleansing waves known as the migrating motor complex (MMC) also kick in to clean up and clear out your digestive tract. (Source)

Both processes make rumbling or gurgling sounds as the food moves through your GI tract, even if you can’t hear it. Growling can become even louder when your stomach is empty because there’s no food to dampen the sound.

Gas produced by your gut bacteria as they ferment dietary fiber can also cause gurgling or growling sounds. It’s normal for a healthy person’s microbiota to produce between 0.2 L and 1.5 L of gas each day. (Source)

What Are Foods That Cause Gas?

Some foods are more likely to cause gas, including:

  • sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners
  • legumes such as beans, lentils, and chickpeas
  • cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage
  • foods high in fructose, such as apples or dried fruits


7 Signs A Gurgling Stomach Could Be Something More

If your stomach sounds are excessive or accompanied by other signs and symptoms, it could indicate an underlying health condition. Here are 7 signs to consider:

1. Diarrhea

Borborygmi often accompanies diarrhea because it’s a sign that the muscles of your large intestine are contracting to help push food and waste through quickly. Diarrhea can occur transiently if you have a sensitive stomach or an acute infection — but this should pass after a day or two. If it lasts longer, it could indicate more chronic GI conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which can cause severe diarrhea. (Source, Source)

Diarrhea puts you at risk for nutrient malabsorption and dehydration. Worrying about easy access to a bathroom also significantly affects your quality of life, so chronic or repeated diarrhea are not symptoms to ignore.

2. Constipation

Constipation is usually defined as having fewer than 3 bowel movements per week, often along with stool that is hard to pass. Many health care practitioners agree that daily bowel movements signify optimal GI function. (Source)

Constipation can be explained by dehydration, a lack of fiber in the diet, or certain medications. But chronic constipation and stomach grumbling shouldn’t be ignored because it could also be a sign of underlying health issues such as IBS or celiac disease. (Source, Source)

For people with celiac disease, intestinal villi (tiny finger-like projections that line the intestines and are essential for nutrient absorption) are damaged by antibodies created after gluten ingestion. The damage to the villi plus intestinal inflammation impairs digestion, which can cause constipation. People with celiac may also have impaired gastric motility, which means the movement of food down the GI tract is slowed down. (Source, Source)

3. Extreme Bloating

A gurgling stomach can also indicate excessive gas formation by your gut bacteria. This is more than feeling a bit full after a meal. It’s more like by the end of the day, you can’t button your pants, or you feel as if you’ve gained 10 pounds in one day. Irritable bowel syndrome or IBD could again be an explanation, but bloating could also be a red flag for small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). (Source)

The causes of SIBO are complex, but it’s characterized by abnormal numbers or strains of bacterial growth in the small intestine. These bacteria can ferment carbohydrates and produce excessive gas and gurgling. Depending on the type of bacterial overgrowth, SIBO can cause significant bloating. (Source, Source)

4. Excessive Gurgling Any Time You Eat

Occasional indigestion (a vague term that describes a feeling of fullness or discomfort after eating) following a large meal or eating something spicy or fatty isn’t that unusual, but if you notice excessive gurgling in your stomach any time you eat, it could be a sign of a food intolerance or sensitivity. (Source)

People with food sensitivities or intolerances often experience bloating and gurgling in the stomach, plus they can also experience headaches, fatigue, and aching joints. Some intolerances (such as lactose intolerance) are common. Still, others are harder to detect and may require an elimination diet, food allergy testing, or comprehensive gut support to get to the root cause. (Source)

5. Accompanied by Other Unexplained Symptoms

Dysbiosis, an imbalance of healthy bacteria in the gut, can cause a wide range of symptoms such as acne, fatigue, mood changes, and brain fog. If your gurgling stomach is accompanied by other unexplained symptoms (and you've ruled out other causes), you may want to consider dysbiosis. (Source, Source, Source)

The causes of dysbiosis can include chronic stress, antibiotic use, a poor diet, and certain medical conditions. Dysbiosis is also linked to autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, IBD, and spondyloarthritis. (Source)

6. Abdominal Pain

Pain is a message that something is wrong, so if you’re experiencing abdominal pain with your gurgling stomach, it could be a sign of infection or inflammation. Occasional gas pains may not be a cause for concern, but persistent or severe abdominal pain should be addressed quickly.

The reasons for abdominal pain are numerous, but pain with a gurgling stomach can be caused by IBS, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or even an acute inflammatory condition such as pancreatitis or appendicitis. If you have persistent abdominal pain and a gurgling stomach, it’s essential to get checked out by your health care provider. (Source)

7. Unintentional Weight Loss

If you haven’t changed anything about your diet and exercise routine but still notice a gradual weight loss, it’s a big red flag. Unintentional weight loss is often associated with cancer or other chronic illnesses, but it can also be related to gastrointestinal issues such as celiac disease or Crohn’s disease. (Source, Source)

As mentioned above, gastrointestinal disorders can cause inflammation on the walls of the small intestines, damaging the villi or other areas essential for nutrient absorption. This damage can lead to malabsorption and nutrition deficiencies, which can cause weight loss. (Source)

What Helps an Upset Gurgling Stomach?

Since an upset gurgling stomach could indicate other problems, getting the proper diagnosis is essential for individualized support. Testing will vary but may include a physical, blood work, stool tests, and possibly further testing such as an endoscopy or a breath test to determine if SIBO is present.

Nutrition Is Foundational for Healing

Diet is a foundational part of treatment for gastrointestinal issues. Nutrition for gut health is very individualized, because different people have different needs. Still, some general dietary principles can help support digestion for anyone. (Source)

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet, avoiding processed and refined foods, and removing problem foods can help reduce inflammation in the gut. Depending on the individual, healing diets such as the autoimmune protocol (AIP) or the low-FODMAP diet can also be helpful. (Source, Source, Source)

Supplements May Add Additional Support

A practitioner may suggest gut-supportive supplements or herbs to help with symptoms. For example, ginger and peppermint have been studied to help calm the digestive system and reduce pain. (Source)

Working with a provider who understands the use of supplements with specific conditions is important because they can provide individualized care and support. For example, certain strains of probiotics may be helpful for people with IBS or ulcerative colitis but can worsen symptoms for some people with SIBO. (Source, Source, Source)

Stress and GI Conditions Are Closely Related

Stress, anxiety, and digestive disorders also have a close relationship, so addressing the emotional side of an upset stomach can also help. The gut–brain axis is a two-way street where emotions can cause digestive issues and vice versa. You’ve probably experienced this if you’ve felt butterflies in your stomach when you were nervous, or lost your appetite when feeling a heavy emotion. (Source)

People with IBS are much more likely to experience psychological conditions such as anxiety and depression. Studies also suggest that stress can trigger flares in people with IBD. It’s essential to manage stress levels with what works for you — possibilities include deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and exercise. (Source, Source)

Small Changes Add Up

While all these lifestyle tips are important, putting them together and adopting them into your life can feel overwhelming. You don’t need to make all these changes overnight; small habits add up over time to improve health. WellTheory’s 14-Day Challenge breaks down 14 simple lifestyle changes into achievable steps to help you get started.

When Should I Worry About Stomach Gurgling?

All of the above are serious and require a check-in with your health care provider. But if you have blood in your stool, pain that’s getting worse, or other severe symptoms, seek medical help immediately.

The Bottom Line on Your Gurgling Stomach

Some stomach gurgling is normal and expected, but it also may indicate a variety of conditions that need attention. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to health, and getting the proper diagnosis is essential to ensure you get the care and support you need.

Regardless of your diagnosis, you can take steps for better digestive health. If your stomach gurgling and GI symptoms are related to an autoimmune condition, the WellTheory membership can support you on your journey to feeling better.

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7 Signs Your Gurgling Stomach Could Be Something More

From pain to changes in bowel movements, these 7 signs could mean your gurgling stomach is something more serious than normal digestion.
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