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Published on July 30, 2019

Q&A with Dr. Wohl: Why Do I Have Stomach Bloating, Pain and Gas When I Swim?

Q&A with Dr. Wohl

When I go swimming, my stomach becomes bloated and painful. What causes this?

This may sound silly, but I think the best way to understand things is by making them as simple as possible. If I had a balloon filled with air and then let the air out of it, I think we would both agree that the air had to have gotten into the balloon some way since the balloon itself cannot produce air. Our stomach works the exact same way. If air is coming out of your stomach “balloon,” then it had to have gone in. Burping is a natural decompressor of the stomach. You are likely swallowing air when breathing heavily, thereby filling up your stomach with air and causing pain and bloating. F.Y.I. – in a normal individual, 70% of our flatulence is swallowed air.

What other related symptoms are there?

Burping, as stated above, can be another symptom.

Are there techniques I can use while I’m swimming to prevent stomach bloating?

Sometimes being mindful of the swallowed air and avoiding swallowing it can help.

Does eating before swimming affect stomach bloating, pain and gas?

Yes and no. It can affect stomach bloating because you are diverting blood to your muscles and away from your digestive track. Eating or drinking before you go swimming can also do the opposite by bringing more blood to your stomach, thereby causing muscle cramps. Gas, as expressed in the example above, cannot be created from nothing and would need to be swallowed either while swimming or while eating before you swim.

If these symptoms persist, are there treatment options?

Pacing yourself so you aren’t breathing as heavy could be an option. Avoid swallowing large amounts of air when you swallow. Don’t eat before you go swimming.

Darren Wohl, MDDarren Wohl, MD, MA, FACG practices gastroenterology and hepatology at Alamance Gastroenterology - Mebane