Everyone gets gas. In fact, this condition is so common that most people pass gas up to 20 times a day. And when gas isn’t released through the rectum, it’s released through the mouth.
Gas can be mild and intermittent, or severe and painful. Although symptoms can develop after eating or drinking, not all gas is food-related. Sometimes gas is a symptom of a more serious problem.
Here’s a look at why gas occurs, as well as conditions that can lead to trapped gas in the digestive tract.
Gas causes a number of digestive symptoms, which can vary from person to person. Common symptoms include:
- belching or burping
- stomach cramps
- stomach bloating or a feeling of fullness
- distention, or an increase in abdomen size
- chest pains
Gas can be uncomfortable, but it isn’t usually serious. In most cases, symptoms don’t require medical attention and improve on their own within a few minutes to a few hours.
Gas can develop in your stomach or your intestinal tract. Gas in the stomach often results from swallowing too much air while eating or drinking. This can also happen if you:
- drink sodas or carbonated drinks
- suck on hard candy
- chew gum
In addition, loose-fitting dentures can cause you to swallow more air than normal.
Gas in the large intestines develops when normal bacteria breaks down certain types of undigested food. Some foods are more easily digested than others. Certain carbohydrates, such as sugar, fiber, and some starches, aren’t digested in the small intestines.
Instead, these foods travel to the large intestines where they’re broken down by normal bacteria. This natural process produces hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and sometimes methane gas, which is released from the rectum.
Therefore, you might experience more gas symptoms after eating certain foods. Foods that can trigger bloating, flatulence, and other symptoms include:
- Brussels sprouts
- ice cream
- artificial sweeteners
- soft drinks
Even if you can’t eliminate gas completely, you can take steps to reduce the amount of gas your body produces.
Making dietary changes is an excellent starting point. Keep a food journal to identify foods that trigger gas. Write down everything you eat and drink, and then make a note of any gas symptoms.
Next, eliminate certain foods from your diet one by one to see if gas improves, and then gradually reintroduce these foods one at a time.
You can also prevent gas by swallowing less air. Here are a few tips to try:
- Drink fewer sodas, beers, and other carbonated beverages.
- Slow down when eating and drinking.
- Avoid chewing gum and hard candy.
- Don’t use drinking straws.
- Give up smoking.
- If you wear dentures, see your dentist to make sure your dentures fit properly.
Along with lifestyle and dietary changes, certain medications can help you manage symptoms.
For example, an over-the-counter (OTC) supplement containing alpha-galactosidase(for example, Beano) can help your body break down carbohydrates in vegetables and beans. Typically, you’ll ingest the supplement before meals.
Similarly, a lactase supplementcan help your body digest the sugar in certain dairy products, thus preventing gas. If you’re already experiencing gas, take an OTC gas relief medication containing simethicone, such as Gas-X. This ingredient helps gas move through the digestive tract.
Activated charcoal may also relieve intestinal gas and bloating. But this supplement may affect how your body absorbs drugs, so speak with your doctor first if you’re taking any medications.
Gas is sometimes a symptom of a digestive condition. These include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease. This term describes chronic inflammation in the digestive tract and includes ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease. Symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, and abdominal pain that can mimic gas pains.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This is a condition that affects the large intestines and causes a variety of symptoms, such as:
- bloating, gas
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth. This condition causes excess bacteria in the small intestines. It can also damage the lining of the intestines, making it difficult for the body to absorb nutrients. Symptoms include:
- stomach pain
- Food intolerance. If you have a sensitivity to milk (lactose) or gluten, your body may have difficulty breaking down these foods. You may experience gas or abdominal pain after eating foods containing these ingredients.
- Constipation. Infrequent bowel activity causes gas to build up in the abdomen, triggering gas pains and bloating. Constipation is described as having fewer than three bowel movements a week. Taking a fiber supplement and increasing physical activity can stimulate intestinal contractions and ease constipation.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disorder (GERD). This occurs when stomach acid backflows into the esophagus. GERD can cause:
- persistent heartburn
- stomach pain
- indigestion that feels like gas
- Internal hernias. This is when an internal organ protrudes into a hole in the peritoneal cavity of the abdomen. Symptoms of this condition include intermittent abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting.
- Colon cancer. Excess gas can be an early sign of colon cancer, which is cancer that develops in the large intestine.
If gas only occurs after eating or drinking and resolves on its own or with the help of OTC remedies, you probably don’t need to see a doctor.
However, you should see a doctor for severe gas that’s persistent or affects your daily routine. Also, see a doctor if other symptoms accompany gas. These symptoms include:
- a change in bowel habits
- weight loss
- persistent constipation or diarrhea
- chest pains
- bloody stools