Someone eating foods to avoid bloating.

COPD and Abdominal Bloating

Bloating is a common symptom most people have experienced at some point in their life. The uncomfortable feeling is often due to excess gas in the stomach or intestines. Excess air and gas can be caused by various factors, from your diet, to the way you breathe. This is why COPD and abdominal bloating are often related.

Abdominal bloating can cause additional symptoms, including stomach pain and burping. Although bloating may be uncomfortable for anyone, it can be especially troublesome for people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A bloated abdomen can push up on the diaphragm and cause breathing problems.

What Causes COPD Bloating?

Occasional bloating is common for anyone regardless of their underlying health issues, but if you have COPD, additional factors may lead to bloating, including the following:

Breathing Patterns

We might not realize it, but we all swallow air from time to time. Swallowing too much air can lead to gas and bloating. Individuals with COPD may breathe in a way that allows excess air to get into their stomach.

It is typical for people with COPD to become short of breath at exertion or even at rest. A natural reaction when you feel breathless is to take shorter, quicker breaths. It is this fast, short pattern of breathing that increases the amount of air you swallow, leading to abdominal bloating.

Lung Hyperinflation

COPD is often characterized by lung hyperinflation. The lungs can become overinflated for a few reasons. When the lungs lose their elasticity it makes it difficult to get air out. To compensate for the problem, the lungs over inflate.

Using CPAP

Continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is often used to treat sleep apnea. Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and COPD appear to be associated. Although not all people with COPD have sleep apnea, many do. According to the COPD Foundation, about 15% of people with COPD have OSA in a condition called overlap syndrome. CPAP delivers air pressure into the lungs to prevent obstruction of the airway, but some of that air also gets into the stomach instead of the lungs.


Diet can cause bloating in anyone and that includes people with COPD. Certain types of food tend to lead to gas and bloating more frequently than others. For instance, cabbage, beans and broccoli are common causes of bloating.

Air Trapping

COPD can cause air trapping in the lungs due to damage to the small air sacs. Air trapping from COPD can cause the diaphragm to flatten, which pushes down on the stomach, creating the bloated, full feeling.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Exercise can be challenging for people who have COPD as it makes them breathless. Being inactive can slow digestion, which can increase the chances of bloating.

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How to Manage COPD Abdominal Bloating

Abdominal bloating is not only uncomfortable due to stomach pain, but it can also affect your breathing, especially if you have COPD. Pressure in the stomach from bloating can restrict how efficiently the diaphragm moves. You can manage COPD abdominal bloating in several ways, including the following:

  • Keep track of the foods you eat. Take note of days you feel increased bloating and determine if certain foods are causing the problem. Once you identify the culprit, cut back on those foods.
  • Exercise. Regular exercise can help improve digestion and may decrease bloating. Even light exercise, such as walking, can reduce abdominal bloating and keep your digestive system working well.
  • Talk to your doctor. If lifestyle changes and home remedies do not reduce abdominal bloating, talk to your doctor about medication. Both over the counter and prescription medications are available to decrease gas and bloating. Before taking any medication and supplements, be sure to talk with your doctor to make sure it is not contraindicated.

When to See a Doctor

Although it might be annoying, in most cases abdominal bloating is nothing to be too concerned about, but there may be some instances when it is a sign of something more serious and it is best to see your doctor to rule out a problem. See your healthcare provider if you have abdominal bloating and any of the following:

  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Confusion
  • Vomiting for more than a day

How to Prevent COPD Abdominal Bloating

Your best bet is to take preventative measure to avoid abdominal bloating before it occurs. It can be difficult to avoid all bloating, but there are things you can do to help. Consider the following prevention tips:

  • Eat slowly and chew thoroughly. Gulping your food too fast increases the amount of air you swallow.
  • Eat small meals more often. Eating large meals can contribute to feeling too full.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages, such as soda or energy drinks, which often lead to bloating.
  • Do not drink through a straw. Using a straw can increase the amount of air you swallow.
  • Attend pulmonary rehabilitation classes. During pulmonary rehabilitation classes, you learn breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing, which decreases shortness of breath. When you decrease breathlessness, you prevent the need to take quick, short breaths that cause you to increase the amount of air you swallow. Less air swallowed reduces abdominal bloating