Gas and Bloating
Gas / Bloating Symptoms & Treatment
Gas is simply air in the digestive tract and is a normal part of the digestive process. You eliminate gas from your body through your mouth when you burp or your anus when you pass gas (flatulence). Flatulence gets its odor from sulfur. The more sulfur, the greater the smell.
Gas is produced by swallowed air and the breakdown of certain foods by bacteria in the digestive system. People who swallow more air or eat certain foods may have more gas. Excess gas in your stomach or intestines can cause discomfort, pain, and bloating.
Swallowing air causes stomach gas. While you naturally swallow some air when you eat and drink, you may swallow too much air from eating or drinking too quickly, drinking carbonated beverages, smoking, chewing gum, wearing loose dentures, and sucking on hard candy. Most of the time this extra air is expelled by burping. Sometimes it may be released as gas.
Gas and bloating may result if your body does not properly digest and absorb carbohydrates (sugars and starches) in your small intestine, which can occur if you don’t produce enough digestive enzymes. Undigested carbohydrates are broken down by harmless bacteria in the large intestine, which can cause gas and bloating.
Additionally, foods containing soluble fiber (another type of carbohydrate) do not break down until they reach the large intestine. Soluble fiber is found in oat bran, beans, peas, and fruits such as berries.
Sugars that are most likely to cause gas include:
- Raffinose: Beans, cabbage, brussels sprouts, broccoli, other vegetables, and whole grains
- Lactose: Milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt
- Fructose: Tree fruits, berries, honey, onions, some vegetables, and wheat
- Sorbitol, Mannitol, or Xylitol: Sugar-free candies and gum
Starches that commonly cause gas include potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat products.
Excess gas can cause discomfort, pain, and bloating. Sometimes gas may have a bad odor. While usually harmless, gas and bloating may also be symptoms of certain gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.
Chronic belching can be a symptom of an upper GI disorder, such as:
- Peptic ulcers
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Hiatal hernia
- Gastroparesis (slow stomach emptying)
- Lactose and fructose intolerance
Gas and bloating can be a symptom of a lower GI disorder, such as:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Celiac disease
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
- Chronic constipation
- Colon cancer
To diagnose the cause of your gas symptoms, your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a physical examination. Be sure to tell your doctor about your dietary habits, symptoms, and any changes in your bowel habits. He may ask you to keep a journal of the food you eat and the symptoms you experience.
If your doctor suspects that a gastrointestinal condition is causing your excess gas or gas symptoms, he may order blood, stool, or imaging tests.
- Reducing the amount of air you swallow by not smoking, not chewing gum, and eating and drinking slower
- Limiting or avoiding the foods that cause you gas
- Using over-the-counter digestive enzymes to help digest carbohydrates in foods that normally cause you gas
- Using over-the-counter antacid medications to help remove gas from your digestive tract
If you are diagnosed with a gastrointestinal condition, your doctor will discuss appropriate treatment options with you.
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