The desire of eating is called Hunger. It leads to stomach contractions due to which the person feels like eating food. There are certain centers in the brain, which indicates if a person is hungry or is satisfied. When hunger is active, a person feels the need to eat and when the stomach is full, the satiety centre is stimulated and the urge for hunger diminishes. There are various factors that stimulate the satiety centre and allow the hunger to subside. This includes degree of stomach wall distention, blood glucose level and minor factors like certain tastes.
When the stomach is stretched sufficiently and also the blood glucose levels come back to normal, a person feels satisfied. Feeling of the full stomach is largely determined by the degree to which the stomach wall is being stretched. Overeating and drinking carbonated beverages are two such reasons for which a person might feel the stomach to be more full than usual. However, at times even when one eats little quantity of food, the stomach gives the feeling that it is full. This is known as postprandial fullness or early satiety. The feeling of fullness may occur and persist even when one does not eat. There are other signals too that induce feeling full without eating much. This may be caused due to various factors such as peptic ulcers, gastroparesis, indigestion, stomach tumors, liver disease, hormonal fluctuations, ovarian cancer, celiac disease and constipation.
What Causes you to Feel Full Without Eating Much?
The factors which leads to feeling full even without eating much are:
- Peptic Ulcers: These are lesions or open sores which develop in the stomach. Their presence causes feeling of fullness without eating too much. These lesions cause pain, discomfort, belching, bloating and regurgitation. They arise after gastritis, where the acid of stomach irritates and causes damage to the stomach lining. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and aspirin cause increased risk of developing peptic ulcers.
- Gastroparesis: It is a disorder due to which the stomach takes a long time to empty its food. It is also called as delayed gastric emptying. There is a problem with vagus nerve activity. This nerve contracts the stomach to push food into the lower intestine. When the nerve is damaged, it cannot allow the passage of the food into intestine, which makes the food to remain in stomach for a long time; this gives a feeling of fullness of stomach. Gastroparesis is an uncommon condition caused due to infections, vagus nerve surgery, metabolic disorders and smooth muscle disorders. Gastroparesis also occurs due to uncontrolled diabetes mellitus, use of certain drugs etc and can likely cause you to feel full without eating much .
- Stomach and Abdominal Tumors: These are growths in the stomach called as stomach tumors which can be benign or malignant. These can obstruct the outlet of stomach and contribute to abnormal feeling of fullness of stomach even without eating much. While, abdominal tumors arise in organs around stomach and compress stomach which reduces ability to distend as normal after eating.
- Indigestion: It can cause you to feel full without eating much. Other symptoms associated with indigestion are burning or pain in the upper abdomen and feeling of fullness without eating. Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is the condition where the stomach acids flow backward towards the esophagus due to abnormality of pancreas or bile ducts, improper closing of the sphincter at the junction of the esophagus and stomach or even cancer. It affects the esophagus and causes feeling of stomach fullness without eating much.
- Liver Disease: Liver is a very important organ of our body. When there is liver disease especially in the form of jaundice, cholestasis and liver enlargement, it leads to reduced bile flow to the intestine. This creates a problem and gives a feeling of fullness without eating much.
- Hormonal Fluctuations Can Cause You to Feel Full Without Eating Much: The feeling of fullness is often experienced due to hormonal imbalances during pregnancy or during premenstrual stage of periods. The progesterone levels become elevated which leads to slow mobility of food within the gut region. This takes increased time to digest the food which may cause you to feel full without eating much or for a longer time and also cause constipation.
- Ovarian Cancer: Presence of ovarian cancer shows symptoms such as bloating, difficulty in eating and frequent abdominal pain.
- Constipation: Constipation is often classified as three or less bowel movement within a week. This can lead to feeling full without eating much as the stomach stays full and heavy with the bowel.
- Celiac Disease: This condition affects one’s small intestine. The intestine has hypersensitivity towards gluten which it cannot digest and causes adverse reactions such as bloating, flatulence and feeling of fullness.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS): The exact reason behind irritable bowel syndrome is not known although some state that the digestive system undergoes changes due to extreme stress. It affects one’s colon and causes symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating and feeling of fullness.
Other Symptoms Associated with Feeling Full Without Eating Much
When the food stays for a long time in the stomach, it will lead to overgrowth of bacteria. The symptoms vary somewhat according to the causative factors. While the common symptoms for all causes include:
- Burning or pain in the abdomen
Prognosis of Feeling Full Without Eating Much
The feeling of early satiety if detected and treated can have good prognosis. While if it is left untreated, it can lead to malnourishment and dehydration. However, the prognosis depends on the causative factor to a great extent.
Complications of Feeling Full Without Eating Much
When one does not eat much due to feeling of fullness, it leads to very less intake of food which leads to malnutrition and dehydration. This gives rise to more medical conditions such as reduced immune function, poor wound healing, decreased urine output and muscle weakness.
How to Diagnose the Cause of Feeling Full Without Eating Much?
One needs to investigate the problem of feeling of fullness of stomach (even when one eats very less) as to what is causing it. The diagnostic investigations include:
- Complete blood count and differential blood count to check for anemia
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
- Checking of stools for bleeding
- Imaging studies using a barium meal X-ray
- Ultrasound and CT scan
- Stomach emptying studies.
Treatment of Feeling Full Without Eating Much
Treatment depends on the cause:
- When the cause of feeling of fullness is due to presence of a tumor in the stomach, it is treated with surgery or chemoradiation.
- Liquidizing of the food so that it passes in an easy way through the upper gut region.
- To consume butter, milk, milkshakes, cheese and ice-creams.
- Medicines called prokinetics such as domperidone and metoclopramide will help to improve gastric emptying.
- The use of nasogastric tube, which bypasses the stomach and is placed endoscopically.
- Consumption of food by using artificial liquid feed, which can be used to supplement intake of the food and can be given either on day or at night while sleeping.
- Occasionally, stents are placed to open the stomach to allow passage of sloppy foods.
- In the case of ascites or fluid in the abdomen compressing the stomach, some amount of the fluid needs to be removed.
- Finally, some surgeons will give parenteral nutrition. This is a special form of nutrition given through a central line or PICC line into the patient’s blood circulation.
Besides medical treatment, there are certain non-conservative treatments to be followed:
- Before swallowing, the food should be chewed properly.
- One should eat food slowly to prevent the collection of air within the stomach due to swallowing of air.
- To avoid intake of carbonated drinks such as sodas and beer.
- Small meals to be taken throughout the day to avoid the feeling of fullness.
- To avoid spicy foods, alcohol, tea, coffee.
- After having food, moderate exercise such as light walking can help digestion.
- After having a very large meal, one should not go off to sleep immediately.
Prevention of Feeling Full Without Eating Much
The feeling of fullness can always be prevented in the following ways:
- Peptic ulcers can be prevented by avoiding certain toxins, smoking and consumption of alcohol.
- Constipation can be avoided by eating plenty of healthy fiber, drinking plenty of water and with regular exercise.
The feeling of fullness of stomach is called as early satiety. This feeling comes when the person fills full after taking few bites. This is attributed to certain medical conditions such as constipation, GERD, irritable bowel syndrome and so forth. If detected and intervened medically, one can overcome easily from the condition. However, if neglected, it can lead to complications like deficiency of important vitamins and minerals, malnutrition, overweight etc.