Stomach Growling: Top 11 Causes (& What to Do)

Stomach growling is normal and often happen afters eating a meal. This gurgling occurs due to contraction of the intestinal walls passing food along the digestive system. Stomach noises can also be a sign of hunger. The increase in the levels of the hormone responsible for the hunger sensation can also cause the intestines and stomach to contract, resulting in stomach noises.

However, when stomach growling occurs with other symptoms such as pain or significant bloating, fever, general malaise, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation and weight loss, it may be a sign of a health problem like an infection, inflammation, or constipation. In these cases, it is important to see a doctor to identify the cause and start appropriate treatment.

If you notice that your stomach growling is frequent antd accompanied by other signs and symptoms, it is important to see a gastroenterologist or family doctor for assessment, to rule out any health conditions that may require treatment. 

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Why is my stomach growling?

The main causes of stomach growling are:

1. Hunger

Hunger is one of the most common causes of stomach noises. When we feel hungry, there is an increased production of specific substances in the brain that signal hunger cues and cause contraction of the bowels and stomach. This results in gurgling sounds.

What to do: When hunger is the cause of growling noises, the best thing to do is to eat something. Choose healthy foods that are rich in fiber to encourage bowel movements and easy digestion.

2. Gas

If there is a larger proportion of gas to liquid passing through the digestive system, this will also cause the stomach to growl. Certain foods may also cause more gas and bloating.

What to do: It’s important to avoid eating too many foods that can cause gas, like beans or cabbage. These foods ferment a lot during the digestive process and increase the quantity of gas produced, which leads to growling noises. Read more about home remedies for gas that you can try to get rid of stomach noises.

3. Digestion of food

After eating, digestion can also cause rumbling in the stomach, as food, liquids or gases pass through the stomach and intestines. This gastrointestinal movement is referred to as peristalsis.

What to do: This is a normal finding, however, it is recommended that you eat slowly, chew your food well, and avoid foods that produce gas, such as beans, broccoli, sweets, milk, potatoes, broccoli, eggs, lentils and cabbage, for example. This will help to reduce discomfort and rumbling. See the full list of foods that cause gas.

4. Infections and gastrointestinal inflammation

Stomach growling can also happen due to bowel infections or inflammation, especially in people with a history of Crohn’s disease. In these cases, other accompanying symptoms are expected, such as pain and discomfort, malaise, nausea or diarrhea.

What to do: If gurgling combined with other symptoms emerge in the presence of intestinal infection or inflammation, proceed to the emergency department so that dehydration, nutritional deficiencies and other complications can be prevented. Additionally, it’s important to rest, follow a healthy diet, and use medication only if indicated by a doctor.

5. Bowel obstruction

Bowel obstruction can also lead to stomach noises due to increased peristaltic movement in the intestines. This increased movement occurs to help with liquid and gas that are unable to pass through a blocked intestine, and results in stomach gurgling. 

A bowel obstruction is a very serious condition that can be caused by worms, intestinal endometriosis, inflammatory diseases or hernias. In these cases, other symptoms will accompany stomach rumbling, such as abdominal pain, strong cramps, lack of appetite and nausea. 

What to do: Treatment for bowel obstruction depends on the initial cause of the obstruction. Regardless, treatment should be completed in a hospital setting to prevent complications.

6. Hernia

A hernia occurs when part of the intestine protrudes out of the abdominal wall. Hernias can cause constipation, and therefore stomach rumbles. In addition, other symptoms may arise, such as pain, swelling, redness, nausea, and vomiting.  

What to do: If you detect a hernia, you should see a surgeon immediately for assessment. Depending on the severity, surgery will be considered. Surgical intervention can prevent further complications, such as strangulation of an abdominal organ (which leads to a decrease in blood flow in the location and, consequently, necrosis).

7. Food intolerance

Stomach growling can be a sign of a food intolerance, which is associated with difficulty in digesting certain foods like milk, bread, pasta, or food additives such as colorings or preservatives, for example.

In addition to noises in the stomach, other symptoms include a bloated stomach, excess gas, diarrhea, nausea or abdominal cramps.

What to do: You should identify the food that caused the intolerance and consult a gastroenterologist to confirm a diagnosis. The doctor will recommend adhering to a specific diet, as directed by a registered dietitian, You should also keep your body well hydrated and take small sips of water or homemade saline regularly, to prevent dehydration that may follow diarrhea. 

8. Irritable bowel syndrome

Noises in the stomach can be caused by irritable bowel syndrome, which is a gastrointestinal disorder characterized by inflammation of the intestinal villi.

Irritable bowel syndrome usually leads to excessive gas production, as well as other symptoms such as abdominal bloating, pain and periods of diarrhea alternating with constipation.

Although the cause of irritable bowel syndrome is not completely known, symptoms tend to worsen during periods of stress and anxiety. 

What to do: Treatment is directed by a gastroenterologist and involves dietary changes and/or the use of probiotic medicines and antidepressants, which calm both the pain and other symptoms. In addition, you should ensure stress is well-managed to prevent flare-ups and worsening. Read about the IBS diet your doctor may recommend to manage symptoms.

9. Ulcerative colitis

Ulcerative colitis is an inflammatory bowel disease caused by inflammation in the intestinal mucosa that can result in bleeding or ulcers in the intestines. Common symptoms include watery diarrhea with bright blood or brown or black, foul-smelling diarrhea.

This condition is also associated with excess gas, which can result in stomach growling, abdominal pain, mucus in the stool, fever, as well as diarrhea that can be chronic, and anemia due to intestinal bleeding.

What to do: Treatment is directed by a gastroenterologist and varies according to the severity of the symptoms. Immunosuppressive drugs, biological therapy or even surgery may be indicated.

10. Crohn's disease

Crohn's disease is another inflammatory bowel disease characterized by chronic inflammation of the intestinal lining. It causes symptoms such as watery diarrhea, which can be yellow due to malabsorption of nutrients, abdominal pain or stools with blood or mucus. Learn more about the symptoms of Crohn's disease and how it can present.

In addition, this disease can lead to an increase in intestinal gas which leads to stomach growling.

Crohn's disease can be caused by genetic factors or a malfunctioning immune system.

What to do: You should adhere to treatment as recommended by your gastroenterologist, which usually involves the use of corticosteroid medication, immunosuppressants or biological therapy, as well as changes to your eating habits. In some cases, the doctor may also recommend surgery to remove the damaged parts of the intestine.

11. Celiac disease

Celiac disease is characterized by a severe intolerance to gluten that causes irritation and malabsorption in the intestine when consuming foods containing wheat, rye or barley. This leads to an increase in bowel movement speeds  resulting in stomach growling.

In addition, this disease can cause excess gas, oily or frothy diarrhea with a bad smell, or bloating in the stomach.

Usually, people with celiac disease show an improvement in their symptoms when they remove foods with gluten from their diet.

What to do: Treatment should be carried out as directed by a gastroenterologist, who may recommend a gluten-free diet and, in some cases, the use of immunosuppressant drugs. Learn more about the celiac disease diet that your doctor may suggest.

When to go to the doctor

You should see a doctor if you have other symptoms, such as:

  • Pain
  • Significant bloating or swelling;
  • Fever;
  • Nausea;
  • Vomiting;
  • Frequent diarrhea or constipation;
  • Blood in stool;
  • Rapid weight loss with no apparent cause.

Depending on the symptoms, the doctor may order exams such as CT scan, endoscopy or blood tests, so that the cause can be identified and the most appropriate treatment can be started.