What's that rumble?

A borborygmus sounds like the name of a monster, but in reality it is only the scientific name for something that sounds marginally less menacing – a rumbling stomach.

You may be surprised to hear that the rumbling, growling, gurgling noise you hear from your stomach and associate with hunger usually does not originate in the stomach at all! Moreover, it need not even indicate that you are necessarily hungry.

What’s actually happening?

Borborygmi is essentially the movements of fluid and gas in the intestines. Food is pushed along our gastro-intestinal tract (the tube starting at the mouth and ending at the anus) by muscular movements or contractions. As the food, fluid and gas we ingest are being pushed along, a rumbling noise is generated. This frequently happens not only in the stomach but just as often in the small intestine.

When does it happen?

The reason we associate stomach rumbling with hunger is because the sound is more obvious and louder when the digestive tract is relatively empty and there is not much to muffle the noise.

Some other causes for the rumbling are:

a) Swallowed air

b) High fibre food that produce more gas

c) Incomplete digestion of food resulting in excess gas in the intestine

Could rumbling ever indicate disease?

Stomach rumbling is an everyday phenomenon but in rare cases it could be a sign of an upset stomach or a medical condition like irritable bowel syndrome, but this is usually accompanied by other uncomfortable symptoms.

nandita.j@thehindu.co.in