Medical Mysteries

What Really Makes Your Stomach Growl

Written by Fred Hilton
Writer: Fred Hilton

It always happens when it’s very, very quiet—the worst possible time. It might be when you’re in church and the silent prayer just started. Or maybe it’s during a movie when there is no dialogue and something important is about to happen. Or it could be when you’re at dinner and trying to impress your hot blind date.

Always at one of these special moments, a low grumbling starts in the area of your stomach and grows louder and louder and louder. You’re sure the noise is reverberating off the walls. You know that everyone in the room is looking at you and giggling.

The rude noise from your innards is nothing new. The ancient Greeks gave it a name: borbroygmi (pronounced BOR-boh-RIG-me). It’s an attempt to put the sound into words. It translates as “rumbling.” You’ve always figured the sound was your stomach reminding you it’s time to eat.

Actually, the noise may or may not accompany hunger, and it is probably coming from your intestines, not your stomach. The rumbling sound is the result of muscular contractions of your intestinal wall combined with the presence of liquid and gas. “Though stomach growling is commonly heard and associated with hunger and an absence of food in the stomach, it can occur at any time, on an empty or full stomach,” says Dr. Mark A.W. Andrews, an associate professor of physiology at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Pennsylvania. “Furthermore, growling doesn’t only come from the stomach but, just as often, can be heard coming from the small intestines.

Growling is more commonly associated with hunger because it is typically louder when the stomach and intestines are empty, and so the organs’ contents don’t muffle the noise.” Dr. Laurence Bailen, an assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine in Massachusetts, says it’s not really clear why your stomach growls when you haven’t eaten in a long time.

“Putting food into your system often quiets the noise, because the food takes up space and your digestive muscles become more focused on breaking down and absorbing the food than on moving the air around,” he says.

When you’re hungry, the growling may be louder simply “because your stomach and intestines are empty, so the noise created is not muffled,” Dr. Shawn Khodadadian, a New York City gastroenterologist, told FoxNews.com.

Swallowing air when you eat is one cause of abdominal growling, so eat slowly and chew with your mouth shut (just like your mother told you). Another option when the growling starts is to point at the person sitting next to you.


Sources: “Why Does Your Stomach Growl?” by Dr. Joseph Mercola, mercola.com, Aug. 29, 2015. articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/08/29/stomach-growling.aspx // “Why Does My Stomach Growl?” by Serusha Govender, WebMD feature from Turner Broadcasting System. // webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/features/why-does-my-stomach-growl#2 // “Why does your stomach growl when you are hungry?” Scientific American, Jan. 21, 2002. // scientificamerican.com/article/why-does-your-stomach-gro/ // “Why does my stomach growl?” by Jessika Toothman, Health Section of How Stuff Works. // health.howstuffworks.com/human-body/systems/digestive/stomach-growling1.htm // “A noisy stomach: Normal or unhealthy?” Dr. Manny Alvarez on Fox News, April 29, 2016. // foxnews.com/health/2016/04/29/noisy-stomach-normal-or-unhealthy.html

About the author

Fred Hilton

Fred Hilton spent thirty-six years as the chief public relations officer/spokesman for James Madison University in Virginia and ten years prior as a reporter and editor for The Roanoke Times in Roanoke, Virginia. He is now happily retired in The Villages with his interior designer wife, Leta, their Cadillac Escalade golf cart, and their dog, Paris. (Yes, that makes her Paris Hilton).

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