What is actually happening when your stomach growls

There’s nothing worse than sitting in a quiet public space and hearing your tummy growl so loudly you’re convinced everybody within a five mile radius has heard. Funnily enough, according to Healthline, these noises actually occur in the small and/or large intestines and not necessarily in the stomach itself.

Most of the time, these sounds are totally normal, but they may signal underlying issues within the greater digestive system, particularly if accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, or frequent diarrhea. Generally, though, stomach growls happen during digestion as food, liquids, digestive juices, and air move through your intestines as they work to process food.

The intestine walls are mostly muscle, which contract as you eat to transport the food through your system in a process called peristalsis, which is usually responsible for the rumbling sounds in your stomach. The rumbling noises themselves have a fancier descriptor, as noted by Dr. Naomi Lavelle, writing in the Irish Examiner, who advises, “These gurgling and rumbling noises are referred to as borborygmi. This onomatopoeic word was first coined by the ancient Greeks and quite simply translates as rumbling.” 

Another major cause of stomach growls is hunger. An electrical pulse called the Migrating Motor Complex (MMC), which triggers peristalsis in the digestive system, causes noises as it cleans out leftover debris, mucus, and bacteria from the small intestine. The MMC is triggered every 90 to 120 minutes, between meals. When the desire to eat is triggered, this sends signals to your intestines, causing the muscles to contract in preparation, thereby causing the sounds. Luckily, it usually quiets down overnight. 

The noises seem louder when you’re hungry because there’s nothing in the intestines to muffle the sound. Most of the time, however, the only person who can hear your tummy rumbling is you. If you’re concerned, limiting your intake of gas-producing foods including fruits, beans, soft drinks, and certain vegetables including cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and broccoli could ease stomach growls. 

Likewise, eating too quickly, drinking through a straw, or chewing gum can all lead to excess air in the digestive tract, which also contributes to stomach growls. However, as Dr. Lavelle advises, grumbling noises usually mean your digestive system is in good working order, so they’re actually cause for celebration rather than concern.

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