Top 5 Reasons for a Gurgling Stomach

The natural body noises that everyone experiences are not always a desirable thing, but some of these, such as a gurgling stomach noise, can let us know our body is functioning properly.  That rumbling sound can even bring smiles to faces when occurring unexpectedly.  But what exactly causes these odd noises from the depths of the tummy?

There is no one steadfast answer to that question, but rather 5 distinct possibilities for the racket going on in the bread basket.  Sometimes the sound is soft and more felt than heard; other times you might swear that a freight train is making its way through your digestive tract.  In most cases, there is no cause for concern, but there are exceptions.  You will generally be able to determine which of the five reasons applies to your own situation.

How is the noise made?

It makes sense that we can speak, because we have a voice box.  You might wonder how on earth a stomach can make sound with no instrument, but consider this:  the stomach and intestine is the instrument.  Each are equipped with extremely strong muscles that operate with autonomy. Working in synergy with the brain, these organs work continuously to digest the food we eat, separate the different nutrients and send them off to various parts of the body.  Through strong contractions of the powerful muscles in both the stomach and the small intestine, food matter is churned and ground as it mixes with acids and fluids  It is during this process that sound is produced, resulting from the contracting muscles.

  • Hunger.  The feeling of hunger is the most recognized of reasons for gurgling stomach noises.  While many people believe that an empty stomach is the reason for hunger, it actually is the lack of nutritive elements in our blood as well as receptors located in the stomach lining that signals our brain that food is needed.  When activity burns up the energy that the nutrients in our blood provide, messages are sent to the part of the brain that controls hunger.  This “hunger center” in the brain initiates activity in both the stomach and small intestine called hunger contractions.  These contractions make vibrations and the vibrations make the noise we associate with a gurgling stomach.
  • Fullness.  Just as contractions in the stomach and small intestine cause rumbling when we are hungry, they can also make noise when we are full.  Instead of hunger pangs, the strong muscles are performing their best work by decimating the food matter we have eaten and turning it into the thick goo called “chyme”.  As this dense matter moves through the intestines via downward spiral waves of muscle contractions, nutrients are pulled from the matter and transported to the areas they are needed.  As it moves through the system, gurgling stomach noises occur albeit not as audible as hunger growls since the sounds are muffled by the food matter. 
  • Gas.  Certain foods we eat are not as digestible as other foods, including dairy products, fibrous foods, legumes, fruits, cabbage, broccoli and carbonated beverages.  Different foods affect different people differently; what is gaseous to one individual may not bother another.  During digestion, the indigestible elements cause gasses to form in the digestive tract through fermentation.  These gasses are normally released by belching or passing gas.  As the gas bubbles work their way through the system there can be gurgling.  Stomach contractions are not generally the noisemaker in this case, but rather the intestines, and may be accompanied by pain that is relieved when the gas is released.
  • Air.  Whenever we eat or drink, we also take in air.  Using a straw to drink, drinking carbonated beverages, chewing gum or sucking on hard candies all introduce excess air which we swallow.  The air works its way through the digestive system causing little pockets that are squeezed by the powerful muscles.  As a result, those annoying gurgling stomach noises are heard.  Just like gas, air is released through either belching or passing gas.
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome.  This disease affects about 30% of the population and is a disorder of the large intestine.  Symptoms are pain, gas, bowel irregularities and bloating to name a few.  Because of the gas that is produced with this disorder, frequent growling and gurgling may be experienced.  Many sufferers of this disease have only mild symptoms although chronic.  It is mostly recognizable through changes in bowel movements, which may be diarrhea in some people or constipation in others.  Still others may experience alternating bouts of each condition.  Pain and cramping, accompanied with the gas, are common complaints.

Those annoying yet often humorous gurgling stomach noises that each of us exhibit from time to time should be thought of as signals; messages that our body is sending to us.  Recognizing what is causing these rumblings will help us to realize that a) our body is functioning properly or b) there very well may be a problem that needs to be addressed.  From feeling hunger or feeling full, having gas or air or possibly even having a medical condition, rumbles and gurgles in the tummy are telling us what is going on in our digestive tract.

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