When Stomach Noises Are Significant -  And When They Aren't

Stomach noises can at times be a cause for concern, and at other times can be a cause for embarrassment. Those growls, rumbles, and gurgles are involuntary, and it often seems there is no set pattern as to when they will occur. Our stomachs growl, gurgle, and groan more than we think they do, but most of the time they do it somewhat quietly. Our intestines make noise as well, but because of all of the soft tissue present in that region of the lower abdomen, the intestinal noises tend to be muffled to the point where we rarely notice them.

Growlings

The Greeks had a word for stomach noise, they called it borborugmos. Borborugmos is Greek for “growlings”. Doctors picked up on the Greek word, spelling it borborygmi, possible to give it a Latin flair, and decided to use it, since it sounds much more professional than does “stomach noise” or “growlings”. Whatever the word, stomachs make noise because of what stomachs do best, which is digesting food -  a somewhat noisy process. Stomachs tend to gurgle and growl the loudest when they are only partially full, just as a nearly full bucket of water will make some sounds when you swish it around, but a bucket that is only a third full will make much louder sounds when swished around. If your stomach is quite full, such as right after a meal, it tends to be quiet unless a quantity of gas is being produced. If that is the case you might hear some growling, or experience some noise when gas escapes out either end of the digestive tract.

Peristalsis

In medical terms, borborygmi is said to be caused by peristalsis. Peristalsis is a digestive process. It is characterized by waves of muscle motion which move food through the digestive tract, moving the mass of food from one end towards the other, while digesting the food along the way. While excess gas can be one cause of stomach noises, the primary cause is the process of peristalsis, a process which also produces some gas in. Take a container filled with a mixture of solid material, semi-solid material, and liquid, in other words the contents in your stomach. Churn that material around until it forms a rather homogeneous gooey mess. That is what peristalsis is doing as it moves food out of the stomach and through the intestines, and that process can be a noisy one at times. In fact it is almost always noisy, though not always noisy enough for us to hear it. The noise comes from pockets of air that become trapped in the gooey mess for a time, and then are suddenly released.

When There Is No Noise

The stomach noises we hear are not only normal, but are to be expected, although we sometimes may wish they wouldn't be as loud as they can be. There are situations however, where these noises indicate something may not be quite right. There are sometimes situations when the stomach and intestines are completely quiet. A total lack of noise  may not be a good thing. When no stomach growling is present, which is to say a doctor can't even hear anything when listening through a stethoscope, it could be a case of Ileus, a situation in which there is no intestinal activity at all. When this is the case, one of two things may be occurring. Either there is a blockage in the intestines, or for some reason the intestines simply are not functioning as they should be. Infections, certain diseases, injuries, mineral deficiencies, and a few other things can cause Ileus. In any event, a total lack of stomach sounds is something that definitely requires medical attention.

Small Noises

When noises are present but are quite subdued, the medical term is “hypoactive bowel sounds”, which most of the time is quite normal, although it could be a sign of constipation. Hypoactive bowel sounds can also be brought about by certain medications, and is often the case following a major surgery.

Excessive Noise

At the other extreme we have “hyperactive bowel sounds”, which as you probably guessed, are louder than normal stomach noises. Hyperactive bowel sounds can be due to diarrhea, allergic reactions to certain foods, colitis, or Crohn's disease. Loud noises may also indicate a partial blockage of the intestinal tract.

Stomach noises are an integral part of our day-to day-living. Most of the time we don't hear them, but that doesn't mean they're not there. Most of the time they don't mean anything special. They can be louder or more frequent if, for example, we eat foods that cause gas. Where stomach noises might be of concern is when they are accompanied by other symptoms, such as nausea or vomiting, which might indicate that all is not well in the digestive system. If stomach noise seems to be acting in an abnormal manner, and other symptoms of a possible illness are present, it would be good to see a doctor or visit a clinic as soon as possible.


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