There’s a TikTok video making the rounds around the internet that features a couple sitting next to each other looking all cute. Then, the guy puts his head down on his girlfriend’s stomach. Cue the sound of her belly grumbling and the dude looking completely freaked out.
Feel seen? Digestive noises can be freaky but rest assured, they are completely normal. Still, it can be a little unsettling to experience a growling stomach when you just ate or aren’t hungry. What gives, right? “There’s actually a medical term for stomach grumbling: “Borborygmus,” gastroenterologist and Fiber Fueled ($14) author Will Bulsiewicz, MD, says. Weird word; totally standard bodily function.
“Stomach noises are completely normal and don’t just happen when you’re hungry,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “In fact, if I’m examining a patient and put a stethoscope on their belly and don’t hear anything, that’s actually a sign something is wrong,” he says. Take that, judgmental TikToker—stomach growling is expected!
“Stomach growling is a healthy part of digestion and if you experience stomach growling by itself without any pain, discomfort, or other symptoms, it is nothing to worry about,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. He explains that after you eat, food, liquid, and gas travel from the stomach to the small intestine. Making noise is just part of this process.
Here’s where the story can change, though. Dr. Bulsiewicz says if the growling is accompanied by other symptoms, your body could be trying to tell you something. Not something “bad” necessarily, just a message to pay attention to. Keep reading for everything you need to know.
3 common causes of stomach growling, according to a gastroenterologist
1. Your stomach could be growling because you’re stressed.
Anyone who has ever experienced tummy troubles before giving a presentation or going on a date knows that the mind-gut connection is very real. If you’re stressed or anxious, it could also be a reason why your stomach is growling. “When I was in medical school, I used to experience stomach growling whenever I had a big exam,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “It was just the way being stressed out manifested for me.”
Stress, he explains, causes the stomach muscles to contract and relax. When that happens, gas and digestive juices are squeezed through the small intestines. This can happen on an empty stomach or a full stomach. Either way, it can lead to stomach growling. “It’s almost like you’re squeezing a balloon,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “A spasm clamps down on the muscle surrounding the intestines which push the gas and liquid to another place.”
If you experience stomach growling when you’re stressed, try simply taking a few deep breaths. The mind-gut connection is so strong that you can actually calm the stomach down in less than five minutes using proper, intentional breath work.
2. It could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome or a food sensitivity.
If your stomach growling is accompanied by diarrhea or constipation and it’s happening on a regular basis, Dr. Bulsiewicz says it could be a sign of irritable bowel syndrome or a food sensitivity, like gluten or dairy. It can be helpful to keep a log of when you experience the growling and other symptoms. What did you eat in the 24 hours before the symptoms started? Could your mood be contributing? For example, were you particularly anxious or stressed this day? Bring your log to your doctor’s appointment so your G.I. doc has as much information as possible.
“Some people who are sensitive to lactose will eat ice cream and then experience stomach growling and diarrhea,” Dr. Bulsiewicz says. “This can also happen to someone with celiac disease if they eat something with gluten.” A doctor can run tests to find out for sure if you have an allergy or sensitivity.
3. You could have a sucrose deficiency.
People often talk about being sensitive to gluten or dairy, but Dr. Bulsiewicz says there’s another food sensitivity that’s extremely common but not talked about as much. “I see so many patients who have a sucrose deficiency and this can cause stomach growling along with other symptoms like excessive gas, diarrhea, or constipation,” he says. Sucrose is the enzyme that breaks down sugar and he says many people are deficient in this enzyme—something they are born with.
If someone with a sucrose deficiency eats foods with sugar, alternative sweeteners, or even sucrose-containing fruit and vegetables, it can result in the aforementioned symptoms. This is another case where booking an appointment with a G.I. doc is a must. If a deficiency is confirmed, it’s important to work with a doctor (and perhaps a nutritionist) on the best ways to manage symptoms as many healthy foods contain sucrose and you don’t want to cut out more than what’s necessary or become fearful of eating.
Again, the vast majority of the time, stomach noises are 100 percent normal and NBD. Even when they are your body’s way to get your attention (because you’re stressed, could have IBS, or could be sensitive to something you’re eating) it’s still nothing to freak out about. Everything Dr. Bulsiewicz highlighted here is extremely manageable, and if you can relate to the situations above, speak with your doctor about the best next steps. It just might take a doctor’s insight to translate what your body is saying into English and give you the proper tips on how to move forward. Either way, nothing to panic over.