What can cause abdominal bloating and shortness of breath?

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Medically reviewed by Alana Biggers, MD

Written by Jenna Fletcher

A person with abdominal bloating may notice that their tummy looks larger than usual. They may also experience a sensation of fullness, tightness, or discomfort in the abdomen.

Sometimes, abdominal bloating can affect movement of the muscles that separate the abdomen from the chest. This can leave a person feeling short of breath.

Keep reading for more information on the link between abdominal bloating and shortness of breath. This article also outlines some of the situations and conditions that can cause these symptoms to occur together.

Are they linked?

Abdominal bloating and shortness of breath can occur independently of each other. Sometimes, however, the two symptoms may occur together.

Abdominal bloating can affect the diaphragm, causing shortness of breath. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that separates the abdomen from the chest. The up-and-down movements of the diaphragm enable a person to breathe.

When the abdomen is bloated, however, it can press against the diaphragm, thereby inhibiting its movement. This can make breathing difficult.

In other cases, conditions that affect lung capacity and breathing can cause swelling or bloating in the abdomen. Examples of such conditions include cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

What can cause both symptoms?

Abdominal bloating and shortness of breath may occur together for several reasons. Some are benign, whereas others may be more serious.

The following sections discuss these potential causes in more detail.

Benign causes

Three relatively benign causes of abdominal bloating and shortness of breath include:


A person may experience bloating after overeating. This bloating may then put pressure on the diaphragm, causing the person to feel short of breath.

Certain foods and additives

Some foods and additives can cause excess gas production. The excess gas can put pressure on the diaphragm.

Some foods and additives that may cause or contribute to excess gas include:

  • high fiber foods, such as beans, lentils, and whole grains
  • carbonated drinks
  • artificial sweeteners


A woman may experience bloating and nausea during pregnancy. Slight breathing difficulties may also occur toward the end of the second trimester or during the third trimester, when the growing fetus may push against a woman’s diaphragm.

Underlying medical causes

Sometimes, abdominal bloating and shortness of breath can occur due to one of the following medical conditions. Some of these conditions are more serious than others:

  • obesity
  • food intolerances
  • irritable bowel syndrome
  • celiac disease
  • gallstones
  • hernia
  • fluid in the abdomen, or ascites
  • pancreatic insufficiency
  • panic disorder
  • anxiety disorder
  • hyperventilation
  • excessive air swallowing, or aerophagia
  • cystic fibrosis
  • COPD
  • peripheral neuropathy
  • Legionnaires’ disease
  • polio
  • ovarian cancer
  • non-Hodgkin lymphoma

People with an underlying medical condition might experience additional symptoms. The exact symptoms will depend on the condition.

Some general symptoms that may accompany breathing difficulties include:

  • coughing
  • wheezing
  • excessive mucus
  • lightheadedness
  • fatigue

Some general symptoms that may accompany abdominal bloating include:

  • indigestion
  • burping
  • flatulence
  • abdominal pain
  • constipation or diarrhea
  • mucus in stool

There are many conditions that could cause both bloating and shortness of breath. People who are not sure of the cause of these symptoms should consult their doctor as soon as possible.

When to see a doctor

Sometimes, bloating and shortness of breath occur due to certain food choices or overeating. In such cases, the symptoms usually disappear once the food has passed through the digestive system.

If bloating and shortness of breath do not go away within a day or so, a person should talk to a doctor. They may have an underlying medical condition that requires treatment.

A person should seek immediate medical treatment if they experience any of the following symptoms alongside bloating and shortness of breath:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • vomiting that lasts for longer than a day
  • loss of control over bladder or bowel movements
  • dark, bloody, or tarry stools

Those who experience shortness of breath as well as the following symptoms need emergency medical attention:

  • severe chest pain that spreads to the arms, back, neck, or jaw
  • tightness or heaviness in the chest
  • choking
  • vomiting


There are many potential causes of abdominal bloating and shortness of breath. Some causes are relatively harmless, while others may be more serious.

The most common benign causes are food choices and overeating. In such cases, symptoms usually subside once the person has digested the food.

A person should see their doctor if they experience persistent or recurrent abdominal bloating and shortness of breath. This may signal an underlying health condition that requires medical treatment.

Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.