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Bloating and ovarian cancer

21 April 2021
Ovarian cancer symptoms

People will describe bloating in slightly different ways, but usually, it is the uncomfortable feeling of tightness or distention around the abdomen. It might be accompanied by pain or the increased need to pass wind. 

What causes bloating?

There are a number of things that could cause someone to feel bloated. The most common ones are: 

  • Eating foods including beans, broccoli and cabbage, and drinking fizzy drinks excessively or quickly
  • Food intolerances to things such as gluten or lactose
  • Certain medications that cause bloating as a side effect, such as aspirin, corticosteroids and opioids
  • Longer-term conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease 

But we know that bloating that is severe, persistent, out of the ordinary or with no obvious explanation could be a symptom of ovarian cancer.

I am experiencing bloating - what should I do? 

If you are experiencing bloating type symptoms, it is important not to panic as there is usually a simple explanation for it that isn't linked to anything serious. However, it can be helpful to try and answer the following questions about the symptoms you are experiencing: 

1. Is bloating normal for me?

If you have regularly experienced episodes of bloating that come and go over a number of years there should be no initial need to panic. You should monitor your bloating, and if you start to experience it more regularly (e.g. more than 12 times in a month) you should make an appointment to see your GP and discuss it with them.

2. Are the remedies I’m using effective?

You should also look at how you treat the bloating you experience. Things such as over the counter remedies, herbal teas and probiotic drinks and yoghurts may sometimes help relieve symptoms, but if they continue to persist and become more severe you should get this checked out by the GP.

3. Is there an obvious explanation for my bloating?

Think about if there could be any other explanation for your bloating. Avoid foods that you know make you feel bloated, and if you still experience the symptom then it is probably being caused something else. 

Look at the side-effects of any medications you are taking, and if bloating is listed, you may need to think back to before you started taking them, and whether your symptoms only began when your medication did.

If you regularly experience bloating as a result of a condition such as IBS, gastritis, Crohn’s or colitis then ensure you monitor them closely and that you follow your prescribed treatment correctly.

If there is no obvious explanation for your bloating, it has become more severe, or the way you have been managing it previously is no longer effective you should make an appointment to see your GP to review things and discuss the possibility of further investigations.

4. What counts as persistent bloating?

Persistent bloating doesn't necessarily mean that you always feel bloated, in fact your bloating can come and go. Persistent bloating means that you feel bloated regularly, for example more than 12 times a month.

Bloating isn’t always a vague symptom

Many women who have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer found that their bloating was so severe that it became increasingly obvious and visible. In some cases, especially in advanced disease, visible masses that could be similar in size to a football can be seen in women’s abdomens and may even be mistaken for a pregnancy bump.

This visible symptom of ovarian cancer is often a result of ascites, which is the presence of excess fluid in the abdominal cavity. Ascites is a common component of advanced ovarian cancer, and in situations of extreme and visible bloating you should urgently see your GP and ask to be referred for further investigations.

Learn more about what you should do if you're experiencing the symptoms of ovarian cancer