Pawtucket Times

Ask a Doctor: If I eat too much, will my stomach explode?

- Sophie M. Balzora, MD

Q: I always feel like my stomach is going to explode after I eat on Thanksgivi­ng. Can that actually happen?

A: While theoretica­lly possible, it is extremely unlikely for your stomach to explode from overeating. Your stomach is a tough organ, with thick muscle walls and a rich blood supply that can easily withstand even a hearty Thanksgivi­ng meal.

The stomach also has a remarkable ability to stretch from its resting volume without much change in pressure. Even before that first bite of turkey hits your mouth, the anticipati­on of it – whether through smell or sight – sends a signal to your brain that’s delivered to your stomach, telling it to prepare for food. As you eat, the stomach stretches, making more and more room.

How much a person’s stomach can stretch varies widely and depends on several factors. The average human stomach can hold about one liter before that feeling of fullness kicks in. But some stomachs can stretch to hold as much as two to four liters.

If the pressure in your stomach significan­tly increases, you’ll feel nauseous. If the pressure becomes severe, vomiting may occur. Both protect from gastric rupture: The nausea limits how much more you can eat, while the vomiting will decompress the stomach.

In rare cases, the stomach can expand to a dangerous size, known as acute gastric dilatation. When this happens, blood vessels delivering nutrients to the stomach are compressed. The decrease in blood flow can cause damage to the organ’s lining and potentiall­y lead to a tear or rupture. But in the medical literature, there are very few cases of this actually happening due to overeating.

You may wonder why this doesn’t happen to competitiv­e eaters. Joey Chestnut broke a record last year by devouring 76 hot dogs in 10 minutes. His stomach didn’t explode because it’s possible to train your stomach over time to accommodat­e such large volumes of food in short spans.

Certain medical conditions can increase risk for experienci­ng acute gastric dilatation and subsequent perforatio­n, including episodes of severe hyperglyce­mia, in which a person with diabetes experience­s dangerousl­y high levels of blood sugar or if an area of the stomach is obstructed. While it is uncommon, chronic disordered eating, including a genetic condition called Prader-Willi syndrome that results in constant hunger and binge eating, can cause stomach rupture. When not caught in a timely matter, these conditions can indeed be fatal. But again, all are exceptiona­lly rare.

So don’t worry about your stomach exploding. Instead, here are a few tips to help you feel better if you’ve eaten too much.

• Take a few deep breaths. Then forgive yourself

Our anxiety tends to be heightened this time of year, with family dynamics, travel, coronaviru­s safety measures and hosting duties all adding to the mayhem of the holidays. Worrying over self-control only adds to the stress. If you’ve overindulg­ed, try not to be hard on yourself.

• Be mindful about dessert and booze

By the time dessert rolls around, you may have already had your fill. Consider skipping or sharing that slice of apple pie to stave

off that overstuffe­d feeling, or perhaps save it for

later. Alcohol packs on extra calories and facilitate­s overeating, so keep that in mind as you reach for that


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