Bellies like to be heard at the most inopportune times. From the growl of hunger pangs to the gurgle of digestion, your stomach can make a menagerie of sounds, often when you’d prefer it not. But should you be worried about what your stomach noises mean? Probably not, said Gail O’Brien, M.D., an Internal Medicine Specialist with Lahey Health Primary Care in Lexington, Mass.
“There are a lot of benign things that can cause a loud stomach,” she said. “Some people just tend to make more noise when they digest their food. If you feel well, and your stomach is a little noisy but it doesn’t happen very often, it’s probably fine.”
That is unless the noises are accompanied by other symptoms, like fever, diarrhea, pain or rapid weight loss. In that case, it might be time to get checked out. So why do our stomachs sing throughout the day? A few common culprits — some harmless, some more serious — might include these:
Most people can distinguish the growl of hunger pangs, so the simple solution is to eat, and regularly. Try spreading out your meals into smaller dishes throughout the day or packing more nutritious snacks with protein and fiber that can keep you fuller longer, like Greek yogurt or almonds.
2. Going from No Fiber to High Fiber
Another common cause of harmless stomach noises comes from eating ample fiber when you’re not used to it. Does this mean you should eat less fiber? Quite the opposite, Dr. O’Brien said.
“Some people may find they have more stomach noise after eating a high-fiber meal, especially if they’re not used to having fiber,” she said. “We should all be eating plenty of fiber, and if we eat fiber regularly, then we’re not going to have as much noise.”
The Food and Drug Administration recommends 25 grams of fiber every day, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Get fiber in nutrient-rich foods like beans, nuts, vegetables and oats, and you can find a long list of high-fiber foods from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Just make sure you wash all that fiber down with plenty of water, which can help support healthy digestion and a quieter tummy, Dr. O’Brien added.
Gas is just air that’s trapped in the digestive tract — and as it moves around your belly, it can cause some noise. When it does, Dr. O’Brien said to try over-the-counter gas relief. Also, consider avoiding fizzy sodas, high-fat or fried foods or limit your fiber intake if it becomes too much of a problem, says the National Institutes of Health.
“Often, if people are stressed, their stomach can get upset,” Dr. O’Brien said. “That stress can go to the gastrointestinal tract, and it manifests with difficulty in digestion.”
If stress triggers a symphony in your stomach, try relaxation exercises, like yoga or deep breathing, to calm your mind and belly.
5. Lactose Intolerance
If a loud belly happens along with an upset stomach, loose stools, bloating, discomfort and gas — all after drinking milk or eating ice cream, for example — you might be lactose intolerant.
The intolerance means your small intestine has trouble digesting lactose, a type of sugar found naturally in foods and drinks made from milk. It’s possible to have the intolerance and not know it or even develop an aversion well into adulthood.
If you think lactose intolerance might be causing your noisy belly, visit a doctor to discuss your concerns.
6. Stomach Bug
“Any kind of virus or general illness can give people an upset stomach, and along with that, a loud belly,” Dr. O’Brien said. “More specifically, if you have gastroenteritis, known as the stomach flu, that can cause it too.”
Typically, the stomach flu happens when your stomach or intestines get infected or irritated by parasites, viruses or bacteria, reports the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Generally caused by food poisoning or bad water, stomach bugs also trigger diarrhea and vomiting and usually go away on their own within three days. If symptoms persist, call your doctor.
7. Other Problems
In rare cases, your noisy belly might raise a red flag for something more serious, such as an inflammatory issue or colon trouble.
“There’s a list of things that can pose a concern, like a bowel disease, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel syndrome and other rare inflammatory things that people can get in their colon,” Dr. O’Brien said.
If your noisy belly doesn’t go away and it’s paired with pain, excessive bloating, constipation or diarrhea, it’s time to see your doctor. Based on your health history, physicians might perform a combination of tests, such as a colonoscopy, to identify inflammation or changes in your colon.
How to Prevent a Loud Tummy
While the growling, moaning and gurgling happens to everyone, it doesn’t mean you can’t hush a roaring tummy. Try these tricks for a quieter belly and better digestive health overall:
- Eat fiber-rich foods daily, including beans, nuts and veggies.
- Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
- Cut out the junk food and spicy meals, which can be harder to digest and may upset your stomach.
- Try over-the-counter medications for excessive gas.
- Maintain a healthy diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fuel yourself throughout the day with nutrient-rich snacks.
But even if you still hear the occasional rumble down below, don’t worry too much about what your stomach noises mean. As long as it doesn’t happen persistently, you and your noisy belly are doing just fine.
Do you have a loud belly or some other stomach issue? Find a doctor near you to talk about it.