Gas and Bloating

Gas in your digestive system is part of the normal process of digestion. Getting rid of excess gas, either by burping or passing gas (flatus), also is normal. Gas pain may occur if gas is trapped or not moving well through your digestive system. An increase in gas or gas pain may result from eating foods that are more likely to produce gas. Often, relatively simple changes in eating habits can lessen bothersome gas. Certain digestive system disorders, such as irritable bowel syndrome or celiac disease, may cause – in addition to other signs and symptoms – an increase in gas or gas pain.

 

Symptoms

Signs or symptoms of gas or gas pains include:

  • Burping
  • Passing gas
  • Pain, cramps or a knotted feeling in your abdomen
  • A feeling of fullness or pressure in your abdomen (bloating)
  • An observable increase in the size of your abdomen (distention)

Burping is normal, particularly during or right after a meal. Most people pass gas up to 20 times a day. Therefore, while having gas may be inconvenient or embarrassing, burping and passing gas are rarely by themselves a sign of a medical problem.

Causes

Gas in your stomach is primarily caused by swallowing air when you eat or drink. Most stomach gas is released when you burp.

Gas forms in your large intestine (colon) when bacteria ferment carbohydrates — fiber, some starches and some sugars — that aren’t digested in your small intestine. Bacteria also consume some of that gas, but the remaining gas is released when you pass gas from your anus.

High-fiber foods that commonly cause gas include:

  • Beans and peas (legumes)
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains

While high-fiber foods increase gas production, fiber is essential for keeping your digestive tract in good working order and regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will likely determine what’s causing your gas and gas pains based on:

  • Your medical history
  • A review of your dietary habits
  • A physical exam

During the physical exam, your doctor may touch your abdomen to determine if there is any tenderness and if anything feels abnormal. Listening to the sound of your abdomen with a stethoscope can help your doctor determine how well your digestive tract is working.

Depending on your exam and presence of other signs and symptoms — such as weight loss, blood in your stool or diarrhea — your doctor may order additional diagnostic tests.

 

Treatment

If your gas pains are caused by another health problem, treating the underlying condition may offer relief. Otherwise, bothersome gas is generally treated with dietary measures, lifestyle modifications or over-the-counter medications. Although the solution isn’t the same for everyone, with a little trial and error, most people are able to find some relief.

Diet

Dietary changes may help reduce the amount of gas your body produces or help gas move more quickly through your system. Keeping a diary of your diet and gas symptoms will help your doctor and you determine the best options for changes in your diet. You may need to eliminate some items or eat smaller portions of others.

Reducing or eliminating the following dietary factors may improve gas symptoms:

  • High-fiber foods. High-fiber foods that can cause gas include beans, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, whole wheat and bran. You can experiment with which foods affect you most. You may avoid high-fiber foods for a couple of weeks and gradually add them back. Talk to your doctor to ensure you maintain a healthy intake of dietary fiber.
  • Dairy. Reducing dairy products from your diet can lessen symptoms. You also may try dairy products that are lactose-free or take milk products supplemented with lactase to help with digestion.
  • Sugar substitutes. Eliminate or reduce sugar substitutes, or try a different substitute.
  • Fried or fatty foods. Dietary fat delays the clearance of gas from the intestines. Cutting back on fried or fatty foods may reduce symptoms.
  • Carbonated beverages. Avoid or reduce your intake of carbonated beverages.
  • Fiber supplements. If you use a fiber supplement, talk to your doctor about the amount and type of supplement that is best for you.
  • Water. To help prevent constipation, drink water with your meals, throughout the day and with fiber supplements.

Over-the-counter remedies

The following products may reduce gas symptoms for some people:

  • Alpha-galactosidase (Beano, BeanAssist, others) helps break down carbohydrates in beans and other vegetables. You take the supplement just before eating a meal.
  • Lactase supplements (Lactaid, Digest Dairy Plus, others) help you digest the sugar in dairy products (lactose). These reduce gas symptoms if you’re lactose intolerant. Talk to your doctor before using lactase supplements if you’re pregnant or breast-feeding.
  • Simethicone (Gas-X, Mylanta Gas Minis, others) helps break up the bubbles in gas and may help gas pass through your digestive tract. There is little clinical evidence of its effectiveness in relieving gas symptoms.
  • Activated charcoal (Actidose-Aqua, CharoCaps, others) taken before and after a meal may reduce symptoms, but research has not shown a clear benefit. Also, it may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb medications. Charcoal may stain the inside of your mouth and your clothing.
*** IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: The content herein is provided for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. In no way does any of the information provided reflect definitive medical advice and self diagnoses should not be made based on information obtained online. Always consult your doctor before starting or changing treatment. If you think you may have a medical emergency, please call your doctor or 911 immediately.