Got gas? Well you are not alone. Everyone has gas and eliminates it by burping or passing it through the rectum. Most people produce 1-to-3 pints of gas daily and will pass gas an estimated 14 times a day. If gas is not expelled from the body either through belching or flatulence, it can build up in the stomach and intestine, leading to bloating and abdominal discomfort.
Gas primarily consists of odorless vapors such as carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and, sometimes, methane. The unpleasant odor often associated with flatulence comes from bacteria, which resides in the large intestine and releases small amounts of gases containing sulfur. The buildup of unreleased gas is the main cause for abdominal pain and feeling bloated. Passing gas or having a bowel movement can relieve this gastrointestinal distress. Although having gas is common and usually innocuous, it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Therefore, understanding the causes and ways to reduce associated symptoms, may help you find relief from gas.
The symptoms associated with gas may vary between individuals and depend on such factors as how much gas the body produces, how many fatty acids the body absorbs, and a person's sensitivity to gas in the large intestine. The following are some common symptoms associated with gas:
- Abdominal bloating: Bloating is defined as an abnormal general swelling of the abdominal area. Patients who are bloated may feel full or that their abdomen is tight. This feeling of fullness or tightness may cause abdominal pain, which is sometimes accompanied by a change in borborygmus. To reduce bloating, it may help to avoid or reduce gas-producing foods (such as carbohydrates) from your diet.
- Belching: Belching or burping is your body's way of expelling excess air from the stomach. Excess air is usually swallowed when you eat or drink too fast, talk while you eat, chew gum, suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages or drink through a straw.
- Flatulence: Flatulence is the act of passing intestinal gas from the rectum. Swallowed air is rarely the cause of excessive flatulence.
- Abdominal pain and discomfort: This pain may vary from mild and dull to sharp and intense. Usually passing gas or having a bowel movement may relieve this pain.
Gas and its associated digestive distress stems mainly from the following two sources:
- Swallowing excess air. This is a common cause of gas in the stomach. Everyone swallows minute amounts of air when eating and drinking. However, chewing gum, eating or drinking quickly, or wearing loose dentures may cause some people to swallow excess air. This excess air is usually expelled from the stomach by burping. A small amount of the remaining gas is released by flatulence.
- The breakdown of undigested foods by intestinal bacteria. The body is sometimes unable to digest and absorb some carbohydrates (including sugar, starches and fiber) in the small intestine due to a decrease or absence of certain enzymes that aid in digestion. This undigested food then passes from the small intestine into the large intestine, where normal, harmless bacteria degrade food, and producing such gases as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Eventually these gases exit through the rectum. Common foods that produce gas include beans, potatoes, corn, pasta and wheat bran.
(To learn how to counteract a decrease in certain enzymes, read The Advantage Of Digestive Enzyme Supplements.)
Gas and its associated symptoms may be indicative of a serious health condition, therefore, these causes should be ruled out. In order to diagnose an underlying condition that may be causing gas, your doctor will initially perform a physical exam and take a comprehensive medical history. Your doctor may initially ask you to review your dietary habits and to keep a food diary. Additionally, your doctor may order the following tests to help identify the underlying cause of gas:
- Gastric emptying studies: These studies measure the ability of the stomach to empty its contents. For gastric emptying studies, a test meal that is labeled with a radioactive substance is eaten and a device is placed over the abdomen to measure how rapidly the test meal empties from the stomach.
- Ultrasound, CT scan and MRI: These imaging studies may be able to pinpoint the cause of bloating which may be due to the enlargement of the abdominal organs, abdominal fluid, or a tumor.
- Maldigestion and malabsorption tests: This requires stool to be collected over a 72 hour period and then measured for its fat content. If maldigestion and/or malabsorption is present, then the amount of fat in the stool will increase.
The following list some common treatments utilized to treat gas and its associated symptoms.
- Changing your diet. Initially, your doctor may advise you to limit the intake of foods that cause gas. These foods include fruits, vegetables, beans, whole grains and dairy products. It is also recommended to decrease the intake of high-fat foods. Less fat in the diet helps the stomach empty faster, allowing gases to move into the small intestine. (For more information, read 4 Ways To Reduce Gas And Bloating.)
- Nonprescription medications. Your doctor may suggest taking over the counter medications such as digestive enzymes that help digest carbohydrates and lactose. For example, Beano, a popular remedy for gas contains a sugar-digesting enzyme that aids in the digestion of certain sugars in beans and many vegetables. Additionally, simethicone (Phazyme, Mylicon, Gas-X, Mylanta Gas) may also be utilized to relieve gas.
- Reducing swallowing air. Eating at a slow pace or avoiding chewing gum or eating hard candy may help to reduce that amount of air swallowed.
While gas and bloating are a common nuisance, they can also be symptoms that may indicate an underlying condition. Do not hesitate to contact your physician if you feel your issues with gas and bloating are abnormal.