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Borborygmi

What Is It, Causes, Treatment, and More

Author: Ashley Mauldin, MSN, APRN, FNP-BC

Editors: Ahaana Singh, Józia McGowan, DO, FACOI, FNAOME, CS

Copyeditor: Joy Mapes

Illustrator: Abbey Richard


What is borborygmi?

Borborygmi refers to the characteristic growling or rumbling sounds that the stomach and intestines make as food, fluids, and gas pass through them. In general, when food or fluids are ingested, they travel through the esophagus to the stomach, where they then enter the small and large intestines. During the movement of these contents, one may notice grumbling sounds, or borborygmi. Borborygmi can also be referred to as bowel sounds.  

How do you pronounce borborygmi?

Borborygmi is pronounced: bawr-buh-rig-mai.

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What does borborygmi sound like?

Borborygmi will commonly sound like rumbling or growling. In some instances, however, borborygmi may be inaudible. 

What causes borborygmi?

Borborygmi is an ordinary sound that can be heard during digestion, usually caused by the presence of food, liquid, or gas moving through the stomach and intestines. The subsequent rumbling sounds occur as a result of peristalsis, which is the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the stomach and intestines that pushes contents further down the digestive tract. 

Although borborygmi is usually a nonspecific occurrence, it can also result from an underlying concern. If borborygmi is due to an underlying issue, the rumbling sounds will often be accompanied by other symptoms. Some conditions that are associated with borborygmi include diarrhea, high consumption of the sweeteners fructose and sorbitol, celiac disease, lactose intolerance

A case of diarrhea -- or loose, watery stools -- is a common cause of very loud or excessive stomach rumbling sounds. With diarrhea, there are usually increased muscle contractions in the stomach and small intestines, resulting in significant borborygmi. Similarly, a diet high in fructose and sorbitol, sweeteners that are commonly used in soft drinks and juices, can also cause very loud stomach growling sounds. 

Borborygmi can also result from celiac disease, a digestive condition in which eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, causes an autoimmune reaction in the body that can damage the small intestine. Along with borborygmi, celiac disease can cause abdominal pain, abdominal bloating, and excessive gas. 

With lactose intolerance, the body is unable to digest lactose, a sugar found in milk. After consuming dairy products, individuals with lactose intolerance may experience not only borborygmi but also abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea, and flatulence. 

Finally, an individual can experience very loud stomach rumbling or stomach growling  if they haven’t eaten for a long period of time and the stomach and intestines are empty. 

How is borborygmi diagnosed and treated?

In general, there is no specific diagnosis or treatment for borborygmi as it is an ordinary occurrence. However, if a certain gastrointestinal disorder is suspected, a review of medical history and physical examination is often performed. Other diagnostic testing, such as an endoscopy or blood tests, may also be conducted to determine the presence of an underlying condition. 

Drinking water, eating slowly, and avoiding foods that produce gas generally helps decrease the occurrence of audible borborygmi. If, however, stomach growling is caused by an underlying condition, then treatment is aimed at resolving the specific condition. In cases of diarrhea, treatment usually involves increasing fluid consumption and eating easily digestible foods, like bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast. For individuals with celiac disease, treatment involves avoiding the ingestion of any type of gluten. Likewise, treatment of lactose intolerance focuses on avoiding dairy products. If an individual is experiencing excessive bowel sounds related to a diet high in fructose and sorbitol, decreasing dietary consumption of fructose and sorbitol is recommended. 

What are the most important facts to know about borborygmi?

Borborygmi refers to the sound that the stomach and intestines make as food, fluids, and gas move through them. The stomach and intestinal walls produce rumbling sounds during peristalsis, when they contract and relax to propel the food or fluids forward. Although borborygmi is usually an ordinary, nonspecific occurrence, in some cases it may result from an underlying concern, such as diarrhea, celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or high consumption fructose and sorbitol. These conditions generally present with other symptoms in addition to borborygmi. While borborygmi itself does not require specific diagnosis or treatment, if an underlying condition is suspected, diagnosis and treatment of that specific condition may be recommended. 

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Related links

Anatomy of the abdominal viscera: Small intestine
Anatomy of the abdominal viscera: Large intestine
Gastrointestinal system anatomy and physiology
Celiac disease
Lactose intolerance

Resources for research and reference

A noisy tummy: What does it mean? (2020, December 8). In International Foundation for Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD). Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.iffgd.org/symptoms-causes/abdominal-noises.html

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Lactose intolerance. (n.d.). In Johns Hopkins Medicine: Health, conditions and diseases. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/lactose-intolerance

Saha, M., Parveen, I., Shil, B., Saha, S., Banik, R., Majumder, M., Salam, M., & Islam, A. (2016). Lactose intolerance and symptom pattern of lactose intolerance among healthy volunteers. Euroasian Journal of Hepato-Gastroenterology, 6(1): 5-7. DOI: 10.5005/jp-journals-10018-1156

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Symptoms of celiac disease. (n.d.). In Celiac Disease Foundation: About celiac disease. Retrieved March 1, 2021, from https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/symptoms-of-celiac-disease/