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Do You Suffer From Shortness of Breath After Eating?

Updated on October 17, 2017
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Pandula is a medical doctor by profession and is also a health informatics expert with a PhD from the University of Oslo, Norway.

Are you experiencing shortness of breath after eating?

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How bloating leads to shortness of breath

When one feels bloated, an obvious manifestation is a build up of pressure within the tummy or in the abdominal cavity as a whole. In humans, the contents in the abdominal cavity (e.g. the stomach and the intestines) are separated from the content in the chest cavity (e.g. the lungs, pleura and the heart) by a muscular partition known as the diaphragm. During breathing movements, the diaphragm will also move up and down allowing the chest and the lungs to expand and contract. The expansion and the contraction of the chest create the necessary positive and negative pressure within the chest cavity facilitating enough lung expansion to inhale adequate amounts of oxygen. When the tummy distends after eating, it will push against the diaphragm and will prevent it from expanding enough. This would mean that the body will not be getting enough oxygen to facilitate proper digestion and other bodily functions. To overcome this challenge, the breathing will become faster thus making the person to feel short of breath.

Mechanism of breathing

The abdominal cavity and the chest cavity is separated by the diaphragm.
The abdominal cavity and the chest cavity is separated by the diaphragm.

Causes of a bloated stomach

As mentioned earlier, there may be different reasons why a person may feel bloated. Among them, the role played by various foods is a significant factor.

Foods that cause bloating and shortness of breath

There can be many food varieties giving rise to bloating. Among them, vegetables such as asparagus, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, cucumber, beans and peas are the most prominent. Fruits such as bananas, pears, prunes and even raw apple can cause bloating while wheat and wheat bran could also give rise to bloating among some people. For some, milk and milk products could give rise to excessive bloating while certain other people may experience bloating following consuming fatty and fried foods. Carbonated drinks, beer and red vine also cause bloating while in certain instances packaged foods can also lead to bloating.

Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are some vegetables that may cause gas and lead to bloating
Cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli are some vegetables that may cause gas and lead to bloating

Bloating due to eating too much foods and eating fast

It is well known that when you eat too much food, you will invariably feel full. This may cause distress and shortness of breath for many people. Similar manifestation may also be seen when you eat too quickly which makes you to swallow more air with the food you eat. The result is a bloated stomach pressing against the diaphragm.

Bloating due to GERD (Gastro-esophageal reflux disease)

GERD is a condition we commonly refers to as 'gastritis' or 'acid reflux'. In most instances, the underlying cause for acid reflux is the partial closure of the gate between the esophagus and the stomach. As a result, the acids in the stomach can flow upwards against gravity and sometimes cause irritation. At the same time, the acids may also cause constriction in the bronchial tree within the lungs thus causing shortness of breath. While acid reflux may be a common phenomenon among a large portion of the population, constant or recurring acid reflux should be treated properly before it causes serious ulceration and bleeding.

Lung problems leading to shortness of breath after eating

By now you may have realized that when eating, the body requires more oxygen and therefore more effort is required to digest the foods. If there is a limitation in the lungs as a result of chronic diseases such as COPD (Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), asthma, pneumonia and even conditions such as bronchitis, the requirement for oxygen may not be fulfilled. This would mean that such persons will also experience shortness of breath after eating even without feeling bloated as the lungs will not be able to replenish the oxygen requirement.

Shortness of breath due to heart disease

Breathing is not only contributed to by the lungs, but also by other organs such as the brain and the heart. When the heart does not function adequately as in the case of irregular patterns of contraction (arrhythmia) and in heart failure, the body will find it difficult to meet the demand created from eating a heavy meal. This would result in rapid and shallow breathing that would give rise to shortness of breath. In contrast to most other causes, shortness of breath due to heart ailments may not resolve with time. This means that a persistent shortness of breath following meals should be brought to the attention of your medical practitioner and appropriate investigations should be performed.

Dealing with shortness of breath after eating

When looking at the multiple causes of shortness of breath after eating, it becomes apparent that you may have to first find out the underlying cause as soon as you experience shortness of breath. This may require the help of your doctor. However, there are several ways in which you can prevent shortness of breath from taking place due to benign reasons.

Eating small amounts and eating relatively slowly will help you avoid unnecessary bloating. Reducing the amount of gas forming foods will also reduce gas buildup in the stomach although you may want to identify the foods which cause most distress than reducing all foods that may produce some degree of gases.

You should also reduce the intake of gaseous drinks such as soft drinks if you are experiencing bloating and shortness of breath after eating. Specially when such drinks are taken with food, you may experience considerable discomfort.

At times, you can also prevent bloating and shortness of breath after eating by treating GERD using appropriate medications and by lessening the acid build-up within the stomach. Eating frequent small meals may be the right path to take if this fits you best.

Central chest pain may be a sign of GERD
Central chest pain may be a sign of GERD

Dealing with serious underlying causes of shortness of breath after eating

If the shortness of breath following eating does not resolve with simple measures as described earlier within a short period of time, it may be a good idea to seek the help of your doctor. The doctor will be able to assess you and perform the necessary investigations to ascertain the exact cause of your shortness of breath. Depending on the cause, the doctor will prescribe or refer you for appropriate treatment. The key advise here is not to postpone seeing your doctor simply because you think you can tolerate the shortness of breath and because it manifest on and off.

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    • celeste inscribed profile image

      Celeste Wilson 4 years ago

      Voted interesting and useful. I have an allergic reaction to any fermented food like pickles, wine etc. If I have these in excess I develop shortness of breath. So I found your article extremely interesting. I think I also eat too fast and I didn't realize that it could make my condition worse. Thank you for an interesting article.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 4 years ago from USA

      Very helpful information! Voted up and sharing.

    • pandula77 profile image

      pandula77 5 years ago from Norway

      Yes it is jeanihess! thanks for your comments!

    • jeanihess profile image

      jeanihess 5 years ago from Cape Town South Africa

      With increasing overweight problems this must be a common problem now in obese societies!

    • pandula77 profile image

      pandula77 5 years ago from Norway

      I agree. Thanks for the comments cat on a soapbox.

    • cat on a soapbox profile image

      Catherine Tally 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      This is a very helpful hub. Although some things, if persistent, shouldn't be ignored; there are often more common explanations than the big ones we all fear. Thanks!

    • MSantana profile image

      MSantana 6 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      This conditions although common could be really serious. Stomach cancer is one of the most serious problems related to this. If your doctor prescribe antiacids and do not take your symptoms seriously ask for a second opinion. I also recommend that people consult med sites.