Most people know what it’s like to feel bloated. Your stomach is full and stretched out, and your clothes feel tight around your midsection. You’ve probably experienced this after eating a big holiday meal or lots of junk food. There’s nothing unusual about a bit of bloat every so often.
Burping, especially after meals, is also normal. Passing gas is healthy, too. Air that gets in has to come back out. Most people pass gas about 15 to 21 times per day.
But it’s a different story when bloating, burping, and passing gas become fixtures in your life. When gas doesn’t move through your intestines the way it should, you can end up with severe abdominal pain.
You don’t have to live with chronic discomfort. The first step toward resolving these issues is to find out what’s causing them.
The following are some reasons you might be experiencing too much gas, bloating, and pain, as well as signs it’s time to see your doctor.
You take in a certain amount of air when you eat. Some things that can cause you to take in too much air include:
- talking while eating
- eating or drinking too quickly
- drinking carbonated beverages
- drinking through a straw
- chewing gum or sucking on hard candy
- dentures that don’t fit correctly
Some foods produce more gas than others. Some that tend to produce a lot of gas are:
You may also have an intolerance to foods, such as:
- artificial sweeteners such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol
- fiber supplements
If you only have occasional symptoms, keeping a food diary should help you determine the offending foods and avoid them. If you think you have a food intolerance or food allergy, see your doctor.
You might not even realize you’re constipated until you start to feel bloated. The longer it’s been since your last bowel movement, the more likely you are to feel gassy and bloated.
Everyone gets constipated once in a while. It can resolve on its own. You can also add more fiber to your diet, drink more water, or try over-the-counter (OTC) remedies for constipation. See your doctor if constipation is a frequent problem.
If you have EPI, your pancreas doesn’t produce the enzymes necessary for digestion. That makes it difficult to absorb nutrients from food. In addition to gas, bloating, and abdominal pain, EPI can cause:
- light-colored stools
- greasy, foul-smelling stools
- stools that stick to the toilet bowl or float and become hard to flush
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
Treatment may include dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT).
IBS is a chronic disorder involving the large intestine. It causes you to be more sensitive to gas in your system. This can cause:
- abdominal pain, cramping, discomfort
- changes to bowel movements, diarrhea
It’s sometimes referred to as colitis, spastic colon, or nervous colon. IBS can be managed with lifestyle changes, probiotics, and medications.
IBD is an umbrella term for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Ulcerative colitis involves inflammation of the large intestine and rectum. Crohn’s disease involves inflammation of the lining of the digestive tract. Bloating, gas, and abdominal pain may be accompanied by:
- bloody stools
- loss of appetite
- severe diarrhea
- weight loss
Treatment may include anti-inflammatory and antidiarrheal medications, surgery, and nutritional support.
Diverticulosis is when you have weak spots in your colon, causing pouches to stick through the wall. Diverticulitis is when those pouches start to trap bacteria and become inflamed, causing symptoms such as:
- abdominal tenderness
- constipation or diarrhea
- nausea, vomiting
Depending on the severity of symptoms, you may need medication, dietary changes, and possibly surgery.
Gastroparesis is a disorder that causes your stomach to empty too slowly. This can cause bloating, nausea, and blockage of the bowel.
Treatment can consist of medications, dietary changes, and sometimes surgery.
You probably don’t need to see a doctor for occasional bloating or gas. But some conditions that cause bloating, gas, and abdominal pain can be very serious — even life-threatening. That’s why it’s so important to consult with your doctor if:
- OTC remedies or changes in eating habits don’t help
- you have unexplained weight loss
- you have no appetite
- you have chronic or frequent constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting
- you have persistent bloating, gas, or heartburn
- your stools contain blood or mucus
- there have been major changes to your bowel movements
- your symptoms are making it difficult to function
Seek immediate medical attention if:
- abdominal pain is severe
- diarrhea is severe
- you have chest pain
- you have a high fever
Your doctor will likely start with a complete medical history and physical examination. Be sure to mention all your symptoms and how long you’ve had them. The specific combination of symptoms can provide important clues that can guide diagnostic testing.
Once you have a diagnosis, you can begin taking steps to manage symptoms and improve your overall quality of life.