You probably know that sensation of your stomach gurgling —the uncomfortable and concerning feeling that a volcano inside could erupt at any time. If you experience it infrequently, you can likely pinpoint what’s causing it, like eating your food too fast, eating something that didn’t agree with you, or simply being hungry. But if stomach gurgling becomes a recurring symptom, it could signal something more serious.
Read on to find out more about what may be causing this symptom.
Think about the last time you ate. If it’s been several hours, and your only symptom is the gurgling (technically known as borborygmi), then it’s likely nothing serious, says Michelle Zook, MD, an internal medicine physician formerly with Parsley Health. However, if you have pain, diarrhea, constipation , excess gas, or foul-smelling stool, then it’s time to pay extra attention. If these added symptoms stick around or get worse, you’ll want to get checked out by a doctor.
Keep in mind that you may be able to let symptoms like noises and gas go on for a week or two to see if they go away. But if you have more severe symptoms, like diarrhea, blood in the stool, or severe pain, aim to see a doctor within 24-48 hours.
When you go to your doctor with gastrointestinal symptoms like borborygmi, Dr. Zook says it’s important they take a look at your health history. She says to prepare to answer a few questions about your symptoms:
After you tackle those questions, the doctor may want to listen to your bowel sounds, tuning into the amount of air or gas stored there, Dr. Zook says. The doctor may also press on different areas of the belly to assess tenderness, organ enlargement, or lumps or bumps that shouldn’t be there.
For patients seeing doctors via virtual visits, like at Parsley Health, Dr. Zook says if their symptoms are fairly mild and not overly concerning, she might ask them to press on certain areas of their own belly while showing her through the video camera (if comfortable with this) and reporting any areas that are tender.
Depending on how the above goes, Dr. Zook says basic labs might be in order to assess for lactose intolerance, or the doctor might opt for stool tests or X-rays.
“In the functional medicine world, we often see patients after they have had this evaluation by a conventional doctor and we may turn to more specialized testing,” Dr. Zook says. This might include testing stool for parasites, yeast, bacteria, malabsorption, poor digestion, and gut dysbiosis , which is an imbalance of the bacteria that make up the microbiome. Or it may include a breath test that looks for small intestinal bacteria overgrowth (AKA SIBO ).
Unfortunately, most conventional doctors don’t test for these things, so many people needlessly suffer from digestive symptoms like stomach gurgling that go unresolved.
As mentioned before, hunger is the most common cause of stomach gurgling, so learning to better read and respond to your own hunger cues can help if that’s the cause.
Another frequent cause is not reaching “rest and digest” mode (AKA the parasympathetic state ) prior to and while eating, Dr. Zook says. “Many of us are rushed and often multi-tasking through our meals,” she says, which can lead to poor digestion. Focus on taking a few deep breaths before you eat to activate your parasympathetic nervous system and see if it helps.
But if those get ruled out, the sounds and sensations of borborygmi might come from a few other, more serious conditions, including:
In any of these conditions, stomach gurgling occurs when three things happen in the body at the same time, Dr. Zook explains: a muscle contraction of the intestinal wall, presence of liquid in the intestines, and presence of gas in the intestines.
Depending on your health condition, you’ll experience different degrees of the contraction, gas, or liquid, which can then lead to variations in the volume and frequency of gurgling your gut produces.
Of course, your condition will determine the exact treatment for your stomach gurgling. “That’s why a thorough evaluation is so important,” Dr. Zook says.
For the more minor causes, like hunger, poor digestion, absorption, and food intolerances, Dr. Zook suggests starting with a small, healthy meal or snack to curb the sensation. You can also try:
These tactics may also be helpful for avoiding stomach gurgling and other digestive symptoms while you work with a doctor to uncover the root cause and find a treatment plan. It can be easy to just write off a symptom like stomach gurgling, but remember that if you’re feeling off, a root-cause approach to your health can often help resolve persistent symptoms.
Mallory, a New York City-based freelance writer, has been covering health, fitness, and nutrition for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in publications like Women's Health, Men's Journal, Self, Runner's World, Health, and Shape, where she previously held a staff role. She also worked as an editor at Daily Burn and Family Circle magazine. Mallory, a certified personal trainer, also works with private fitness clients in Manhattan and at a strength studio in Brooklyn. Originally from Allentown, PA, she graduated from Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.