We’ve all experienced bloating from time to time. It’s usually because we’ve eaten too much of the wrong food (beans anyone?!), mistakenly eaten something we’re allergic to, or we're taking a new medicine that doesn’t sit well with us. However, persistent bloating is one of four symptoms of ovarian cancer we should look out for.
If you are experiencing bloating, it is important not to panic as there is usually a simple explanation for it that isn't linked to anything serious. 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’ve regularly experienced bloating episodes that have come and go over a number of years, there should be no need to panic. 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. Try using our symptoms diary to help you keep track.
2. Are the remedies I’m using effective?
How do you treat your bloating? 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?
- Could there be any other explanation for your bloating? If there are some foods that make you feel bloated, avoid them and if you still experience the symptom then it is probably being caused by something else.
- Is bloating listed as a side-effect of any medications you are taking? If bloating is listed, you may need to think back to before you started taking the medicine, and whether your symptoms only began when your medication did.
- Do you regularly experience bloating as a result of a condition such as IBS, gastritis, Crohn’s or colitis? If you do, make sure you monitor your bloating 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 had been managing it 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.