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Why Does my Stomach Growl?

Sometimes my stomach gets gurgly for no apparent reason. What’s going on in there?

(Photo: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

It’s time to add two new weapons to your Words With Friends arsenal.

First up: borborygmi (58 points). That’s the technical term for the grumbling in your stomach. Next, we have peristalsis (50 points). That refers to a wave of muscle contractions that occur in your digestive tract.

“All of those noises mostly have to do with your intestinal tract moving,” says gastrointerologist Dr. Patricia Raymond. Your stomach grinds up food, swishing it back and forth into very fine particles before it pushes it down into the upper intestine. “So if you’re getting a grumble in your upper stomach, that’s just your stomach moving and grinding and churning,” Raymond says.

But if the sound is lower in your belly, “it’s the intestine moving stuff around so you can absorb nutrients in that area,” Raymond says.

Contraction-induced borborygmi can happen “every couple of hours as the body moves things along,” says Dr. Bob Adams, chair of the USA Track and Field Sports Medicine and Science Committee. Even if you haven’t eaten, you can still get it. In fact, when you haven’t eaten for a few hours, peristalsis will occur more frequently to remind you that you’re hungry.

Swallowing air, whether because you’re talking, eating, drinking—especially carbonated beverages—or hiking a mountain can also induce growling. “Your GI tract wasn’t made to absorb the air,” Raymond says. So the gas can make noises as it gets passed along through your stomach and out the other end.

“Your bowels are supposed to make noises, and even though it’s kind of embarrassing to make those noises in public, it’s actually OK,” Raymond says. There are, however, circumstances in which a growl could signal an obstruction in your intestinal tract.

“What you don’t want to hear is a high-pitched sound. If you’re looking at your belly and you can see things move, almost like a snake, that’s not the right routine,” Raymond says. So if your growl is more of a whistle, or the grumbling is uncomfortable, have a doctor take a look at you.

The bottom line: The growl is likely the result of the contractions your digestive system makes to keep food moving through your body.

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Lead Photo: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock