What is Gas?
Gas can best be described in two ways. Firstly, excess gas we swallow results in a burp or belch. Secondly, it’s excess gas that accumulates in the lower intestinal system which causes flatulence.
Passing gas in either of these ways might on occasion be embarrassing, but it is quite normal. In actual fact, the average person will pass wind up to 15 times a day. (1)
However, there are times when gas can be a cause for concern. For example, trapped wind can be painful particularly if accompanied by bloating, constipation or diarrhea.
Gas comes from two sources, the air we swallow and gas produced in the lower intestinal system. We will detail some of the possible causes:
Swallowing Too Much Air
We all swallow some air when we eat and drink, it’s generally small amounts but there are times when we take in more than “normal”.
Things that contribute to this include eating or drinking too quickly or talking while eating also makes us swallow more air. Other factors that can contribute are chewing gum and smoking and you also take in more air if you are wearing dentures that don’t fit properly.
Alternatively, other reasons could be habitual, like smacking lips or excessive swallowing. These factors may cause bloating or excessive belching. (2)
Drinking Fizzy Drinks
Carbonated sodas, beer and other fizzy drinks can cause excess gas and this is particularly notable if they are drunk quickly or through a straw. Either way, the result is bloating of the stomach and burping. (3)
Certain foods can cause the production of excess gas.
When we eat, undigested food passes from the stomach to the intestines. The small intestine contains bacteria which breaks down undigested carbs and produces gas.
Foods that can cause excess gas include: vegetables like beans, brussel sprouts and cabbage, fruit like apples, peaches and pears, some dairy products like cheese and ice cream. Grains including whole wheat and bran along with some drinks and processed foods can also be contributors.
The excess production of gas can cause bloating, abdominal pain and excess flatulence. (4)
Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
This is the growth of excessive bacteria in the small intestine. However, it can also be a change in the type of bacteria within the small intestine. These two factors are often a complication of other conditions.
As there are more bacteria, extra gas is produced which causes diarrhea, bloating, abdominal pain and flatulence. (5)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome or IBS often causes bloating and abdominal pain. This may be due to gas being unable to pass through the digestive system efficiently. (6)
Gastroesophageal reflux disorder or GERD is also known as acid reflux. It is a chronic condition that happens when stomach contents and gas flow back into your food pipe or esophagus.
Those that suffer with GERD have a tendency to burp more and they do this to try and make themselves feel less full and relieve their symptoms. (7)
Lactose is a sugar found in milk and other dairy products. It’s an intolerance to lactose which produces abdominal pain and gas. (8)
Fructose is sugar in certain fruits and vegetables, honey and artificial sweeteners. An intolerance can cause abdominal pain, bloating, belching and flatulence. (9)
This disease is an intolerance to gluten, a protein we find in wheat, rye and barley. It is also found in other products like lip balm and cosmetics.
One of the symptoms of this disease is excessive flatulence. (10)
Eating disorders interfere with the normal passage of food through the digestive system. The result is abdominal bloating due to trapped gas. (11)
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease or IBD can cause flatulence. This may be smellier than normal when the disease flares up. (12)
There are many causes of bowel obstruction, which include: hernia, inflammation, certain cancers or scar tissue from surgery.
The obstruction can cause swelling and pain in the abdomen and problems passing gas. (13)
There are four main symptoms associated with excessive gas. These are:
This is also referred to as burping. Passing gas in this manner is normal once in a while and it can occur during and after meals or after drinking fizzy soda. If you burp a lot, you may be swallowing too much air.
However, some people burp out of habit which is classed as a behavioural issue. (14)
The side effects of some types of medication can be increased gas, wind or bloating. This is why it’s important to check any information that comes with medicines for side effects.
This is sometimes referred to as passing gas or farting. Incidences of flatulence more than 15 times a day may be an indication of an underlying condition. (15)
It is not unusual to feel bloated after eating a meal. However, persistent abdominal pain and bloating can indicate another issue.
This could be due to gas not passing through your body efficiently or excessive gas being produced. (16)
Pain or Discomfort in Your Abdomen
When gas doesn’t move through your digestive system properly the build up causes cramping in the abdomen. This can be at best uncomfortable and at worst painful. (17)
We have already learnt a certain amount of belching and passing gas is normal. If there are patterns that deviate from the norm you need to seek medical advice.
If gas is causing abdominal pain which is unbearable seek immediate medical help.
There could be an underlying condition that needs emergency treatment.
When you see your doctor they will ask about your symptoms and diet. Your medical history and any medications you are taking are also relevant. They will also give you a physical examination which includes feeling your tummy.
Further tests may be necessary to eliminate or diagnose other issues including blood and stool tests.
There may be more tests necessary which include:
Your colon is part of your lower gastrointestinal tract. To see what is happening, a camera at the end of a flexible tube is inserted into your rectum and this will check the condition of the bowel and identify any inconsistencies. (18)
This entails a camera being put into your stomach and intestines through your mouth. You would normally be sedated when this happens. (19)
This may be done during an endoscopy or colonoscopy. A tissue sample can be taken from the inside of the digestive system or bowel for examination under a microscope. (20)
X-rays or MRI scans may be done to give doctors a picture of your digestive system. This will usually involve swallowing a dye called barium that will show up on x-rays. (21)
What is gas? Gas is described in two ways. It could be excess gas that we swallow which results in a burp or belch or excess gas in the lower intestinal system. This is due to fermentation of foods we eat and results in flatulence.
What causes gas? There are many things which cause gas. Some are innocuous and others may be an indication of a more serious condition.
How do doctors test for gas? Your gas issues may be connected to diet and lifestyle. Blood tests and stool tests can reveal these. If not then your doctor may ask for more invasive tests. These include colonoscopies or endoscopies which help determine the problem.
When should you go to the doctors with gas issues? You should see your doctor if the your symptoms are persistent and painful. You may have tried over the counter medications that are not working. You could have recurring diarrhea or constipation. You might experience sudden weight loss or have blood in your stools. (22)
Can you prevent gas issues? There are some things that you can do to help prevent flatulence and belching. Eat your food slowly and have smaller meals more often. Follow a healthy balanced diet and avoid foods that can exacerbate the problem. Peppermint tea is a natural remedy can aid digestion. Try to avoid chewing gum and drinking fizzy soda. If you have dentures make sure they fit properly. (23)
What can relieve gas issues? There are over the counter medications that can help relieve the symptoms of gas. Speak to your pharmacist about your symptoms and they can advise you.
Is there anything that can help with gas that smells? Flatulence usually smells due to the sulphurous gases it contains. Taking charcoal tablets may make passing wind smell a little better. Alternately you can get special underwear or pads that absorb the smell. (24,25)
Can probiotics help gas? Probiotics are live organisms sometimes called good bacteria. They can be found in health supplements or foods like yogurt. The most common is a probiotic called lactobacillus acidophilus. It works by helping maintain good bacteria in the digestive system and reducing the production of gas. (26,27)
We have learnt gas forms in two ways. It can be from excess air that we swallow or produced by bacteria in the digestive system. It can cause belching and flatulence. It also contributes to abdominal pain and bloating.
There are many causes of why we get gas, some are easily treated with diet and lifestyle changes. Others may need medical intervention to deal with the underlying cause.
Gas can be both painful and sometimes embarrassing. There are things we can do to prevent gas. These include avoiding foods we know can cause it or avoiding things that make us swallow more air.
Medical help and tests can determine the cause of gas and ultimately the treatment of it.