Bloating, belching, gas and gas pains can be embarrassing and uncomfortable. Here’s what causes these signs and symptoms — and how you can prevent them.
Bloating, burping and passing gas are natural and are usually caused by swallowed air or the breakdown of food through digestion. You may experience gas and gas pains only occasionally or repeatedly in a single day. When gas and gas pains interfere with your daily activities, it may be an indication of something serious. Find out how to reduce or avoid gas and gas pains, and when you may need to see your doctor.
Bloating: Gas buildup in your stomach and intestines
When gas doesn’t pass through belching or flatulence, it can build up in the stomach and intestines and lead to bloating. Bloating is often accompanied by abdominal pain — either mild and dull or sharp and intense. Passing gas or having a bowel movement may relieve the pain.
Bloating may be related to:
- Eating fatty foods. Fat delays stomach emptying and can increase the sensation of fullness
- Stress or anxiety
- A gastrointestinal infection, blockage or disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome, a condition characterized by abdominal pain or cramping and changes in bowel function
- Conditions such as celiac disease or lactose intolerance in which the intestines aren’t able to digest and absorb certain components of food
To reduce bloating, it may help to avoid or reduce the amount of gas-producing foods you eat. Many carbohydrates cause gas, and the following items are common culprits:
- Baked beans
- Brussels sprouts
- Carbonated drinks
- Chewing gum
- Fruits such as apples, peaches and pears
- Hard candy
Belching: Getting rid of excess air
Belching or burping is your body’s way of expelling excess air from your stomach. You may swallow excess air if you eat or drink too fast, talk while you eat, chew gum or suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages, or drink through a straw.
Acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can have the same effect. If stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, you may swallow repeatedly to clear the material. This can lead to swallowing more air and further belching.
Some people swallow air as a nervous habit — even when they’re not eating or drinking. In other cases, chronic belching is related to inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis), peptic ulcer disease or delayed stomach emptying (gastroparesis).
You can reduce belching if you:
- Eat and drink slowly. Taking your time can help you swallow less air. Also, avoid drinking through a straw.
- Avoid carbonated drinks and beer. They release carbon dioxide gas.
- Skip the gum and hard candy. When you chew gum or suck on hard candy, you swallow more often than normal. Part of what you’re swallowing is air.
- Don’t smoke. When you inhale smoke, you also inhale and swallow air.
- Check your dentures. Poorly fitting dentures can cause you to swallow excess air when you eat and drink.
- Treat heartburn. For occasional, mild heartburn, over-the-counter antacids or other remedies may be helpful. GERD may require prescription-strength medication or other treatments.
Flatulence: Gas buildup in the colon
Intestinal gas is typically caused by the fermentation of undigested food, such as plant fiber, in the colon. Gas can also form when your digestive system doesn’t completely break down certain components in foods, such as gluten or the sugar in dairy products and fruit.
Other sources of intestinal gas may include:
- Food residue in your colon
- Changes in intestinal bacteria due to antibiotics or other medications
- Carbohydrate malabsorption, which can upset the balance of helpful bacteria in your digestive system
- Swallowed air that migrates to your colon
- Constipation — the longer food waste remains in your colon, the more time it has to ferment
Sometimes, gas indicates a digestive disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance.
To prevent excessive gas, it may help to:
- Avoid the foods that affect you most. Common offenders include beans, peas, lentils, cabbage, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, bananas, raisins, whole-wheat bread, salads and carbonated drinks. If dairy products are a problem, try low-lactose or lactose-free varieties.
- Read labels. If dairy products seem to be a problem, you may have some degree of lactose intolerance. Pay attention to what you eat and try low-lactose or lactose-free varieties. Certain indigestible carbohydrates found in sugar-free foods (sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol) also may result in increased gas.
- Eat fewer fatty foods. Fat slows digestion, giving food more time to ferment.
- Temporarily cut back on high-fiber foods. Fiber aids digestion, but many high-fiber foods are also great gas producers. After a break, slowly add fiber back to your diet. Add products such as Beano to high-fiber foods to help reduce the amount of gas they produce.
- Eat slowly. Try to make meals relaxed occasions. Eating when you’re stressed or on the run can interfere with digestion.
- Get moving. It may help to take a short walk after eating.
- Try an over-the-counter remedy. Products such as Lactaid or Dairy Ease can help digest lactose. Products containing simethicone help break up the bubbles in gas.
When to see your doctor
Bouts of excess bloating, belching and gas often resolve on their own. Consult your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with changes in eating habits or you notice:
- Severe, prolonged or recurrent abdominal pain
- Nausea or vomiting
- Bloody stools
- Weight loss
- Chest pain
These symptoms could signal an underlying digestive condition. Intestinal symptoms can be embarrassing — but don’t let embarrassment keep you from seeking help. Treatment is available.