Intestinal gas is a normal byproduct of the digestive process. It’s also known as bowel gas or flatus. If there’s too much gas in your intestinal tract, it might block the results when receiving a sonograph of certain tissues or organs. This is known as overlying bowel gas.

Read on to learn about the causes of overlying bowel gas and the symptoms and complications of excess bowel gas.

Ultrasounds are a valuable tool for diagnosis. They allow doctors to see your internal organs, blood vessels, or other soft tissues without the need for surgery. However, the ultrasound waves have to pass through a medium in order to generate images.

Ultrasound waves can’t pass through gas or air. Therefore, when a sonographer or radiologist examines the images, they may not be able to see the area clearly. For example, if there’s too much gas in the stomach, there will be nothing for the ultrasound waves to pass through and there will be gaps or “obstructions” in the image.

Finding overlying bowel gas on a sonogram is a common experience, and generally is part of typical intestinal function. However, if this happens repeatedly you may have an excess of gas in your intestinal tract.

Ultrasounds are the preferred image modality during pregnancy because it avoids radiation while providing a clear image of internal organs or fetal development. However, overlying bowel gas may create limitations in some situations. Usually, a transvaginal ultrasound will be recommended to avoid the areas that are blocked by excess gas.

It’s common to experience excess gas during pregnancy. This is due to hormonal changes that occur during this time.

Specifically, your body makes more progesterone, a hormone that has a relaxing effect on your muscles. This includes your intestinal muscles. As a result, your digestion slows down, causing excess gas and bloating.

Overlying bowel gas can interfere with the results of an ultrasound when diagnosing other conditions or a standard prenatal checkup. As a result, it will be difficult to see the organs or tissues that are being tested. Your healthcare professional might need to repeat the ultrasound to get more accurate results, but it shouldn’t permanently inhibit a diagnosis.

While excess or overlying bowel gas can be painful, it’s not known to cause life threatening side effects.

There are many possible factors that may be causing you excess gas during an ultrasound, including:

Swallowing too much air

It’s normal to swallow some air when you eat or drink. However, if you swallow too much air, it can stay in your stomach and enter your intestines. This can result in excess gas.

The following habits might cause you to swallow more air:

  • chewing gum
  • sucking on hard candy or objects
  • drinking carbonated or sweetened beverages
  • eating or drinking too fast
  • drinking beverages with a straw
  • wearing loose-fitting dentures

Dietary choices

The foods you eat can also lead to excess gas. This is mainly caused by carbohydrates, such as fiber and sugars.

These carbohydrates aren’t fully digested in the stomach and small intestine. As a result, they enter the large intestine, where they’re broken down by bacteria. The result is excess gas.

Some foods that cause gas include:

  • fiber-rich fruits like apples, peaches, or pears
  • cruciferous vegetables (like kale and cauliflower)
  • legumes (like beans and lentils)
  • dairy products (like milk and yogurt)
  • whole grains
  • drinks with high-fructose corn syrup (like sports drinks)
  • candy or gum
  • food with sweeteners that end in “ol” (like mannitol or xylitol)

Underlying conditions

Many gastrointestinal disorders can cause excess gas. Some conditions are temporary, while others cause chronic lifelong symptoms. Examples of disorders that may cause excess gas include:

The symptoms of excess intestinal gas are different for each person. In general, it can cause:

If your excess gas is caused by an underlying condition, you’ll also have symptoms of that particular disorder.

When to speak with your doctor

The symptoms of excess bowel gas overlap with many other conditions, some of them serious. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor if you have gas that:

  • persists even with dietary changes and home remedies
  • occurs frequently
  • interferes with your daily activities
  • causes pain or discomfort
  • develops with diarrhea, constipation, or vomiting

Before your appointment, it can be helpful to keep a detailed journal of your symptoms along with your diet and any other important habits. You may also want to talk with your family members to see if a history of symptoms like yours runs in the family.

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There are a variety of ways to manage excess gas both at home and with medications. This may include:

Lifestyle changes

Minimizing or avoiding the following habits might help reduce excess gas:

  • avoiding chewing gum
  • avoiding sucking on hard candy
  • avoiding drinking carbonated beverages and using a straw
  • eating slowly
  • wearing dentures that fit correctly

Dietary changes

Avoiding or limiting foods associated with gas may also help.

Additionally, your doctor might recommend avoiding certain foods if you have a condition that causes gas. This is likely if you have a disorder such as:

Medications or supplements

Your doctor might recommend over-the-counter gas relievers like simethicone. They might also suggest supplements like papaya enzymes or lactase enzymes, which are used for lactose intolerance.

If you have an underlying disorder that causes excess gas, your doctor will likely prescribe prescription drugs to manage the condition.

The gut-brain connection

If you’re dealing with digestive issues, you might experience mental health symptoms as well. That’s because your gut and brain are connected via the gut-brain axis. Therefore, it’s important to follow your doctor’s treatment plan to manage your symptoms and get relief.

If you have an underlying gastrointestinal disorder, consider attending a support group. Depending on your condition, many nonprofit organizations exist to help you find support and resources. Like these:

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Overlying bowel gas is intestinal gas that obscures, or hides, other structures during an ultrasound. This can make it difficult for your doctor to examine your organs and tissues.

There are many potential causes of excess gas, including eating high fiber foods or drinking fizzy beverages. Gastrointestinal disorders, like Crohn’s disease, celiac disease, and IBS, can also cause gas.

Depending on the cause, your doctor can help manage your symptoms. This may include medication, supplements, lifestyle changes, or new dietary habits.