Stomach Gas: Common Causes, Conditions, & Treatments
While producing and releasing stomach gas is simply part of human digestion, it can also be a sign of a more serious illness that requires medical treatment.
·October 20th, 2021
Gas is a naturally occurring process that everyone experiences, arising as a result of air you swallow or your day-to-day digestion.
Certain activities, like chewing gum or smoking, can increase the amount of gas you experience. Gas also depends on the foods you eat, with some categories, like cruciferous high fiber or fatty foods, lending themselves more easily to experiencing gas.
Certain gut health conditions may predispose you to gas
Gas can be treated with over-the-counter remedies, herbal remedies, or lifestyle changes to your diet or physical activity.
Seek help from a complementary health care provider who can evaluate your issues and prescribe changes.
Feeling gassy from time to time is completely normal. But sometimes, gas can be inconvenient and even uncomfortable. While producing and releasing gas is simply part of human digestion, it can be helpful to know when it may be a sign of a more serious illness that requires medical treatment.
What is gas?
Gas in the body comes from one of two sources. It can come from air swallowed while eating, drinking, and talking, and this type of gas is usually either released through burping or travels to the intestines and is released through flatulence.
Most people know how it feels to have gas. Often, it makes you feel like burping or passing gas (through flatulence, or farting), especially after a meal. Gas in the abdomen can make you feel bloated or even make your belly swell—a phenomenon called distention. It sometimes can cause cramping or abdominal pain, but this usually passes as gas is released.
Gas is also a natural byproduct of digestion: After food travels from the stomach to the small intestine, it enters the large intestine, where it’s broken down even further by microorganisms that live in the gut (known as the gut microbiota).
As these organisms digest the food, they release gas—some more than others—which travels through the colon and eventually the rectum. These microorganisms release a variety of gases, not all of which are foul smelling. Oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide are odorless, while gases like hydrogen sulfide and methane, which only certain microbes produce, give off a characteristic smell.
Everyone has different populations of microorganisms in their gut than others, and a person’s gut microbiota may change over time or depending what they eat. That’s why the amount and smell of a person’s gas can vary widely.
But having large amounts of gas or particularly odorful gas is usually nothing to feel concerned about. Most people pass gas 14 to 23 times a day, and many people think they have too much gas when they actually have normal amounts.
What causes gas?
You can become gassy if you’re swallowing more air than usual. Some common causes include chewing gum, sucking on hard candies, eating too fast, not chewing enough, drinking in big gulps, smoking, or wearing dentures that don’t fit. Avoiding these things can help you swallow less air.
The other major cause of gas is diet. Certain foods tend to cause gas because of the way they’re digested in the gut, and some people have medical conditions that make them more sensitive to some types of food. Some common examples are below.
High-fiber foods: Foods that are high in fiber tend to cause gas because fiber is primarily broken down by the microbes in the large intestine, some of which produce gas. These foods include cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and kale; whole grains; legumes and beans; and fruits like apples, oranges, peaches, pears, plums, and prunes. (Though fiber can cause more gas, it’s also an important part of the diet that most people don’t get enough of, so speak to a nutritionist about cutting down on these foods in a healthy way).
Fatty foods: The fat in fatty or fried foods takes longer to digest and slows the digestion process, keeping food (and any gas produced through digestion) in your body for a longer period of time, leading to bloating and distention.
Dairy: Some people, particularly people who are lactose intolerant, become gassy after eating dairy products like milk, cheese, and ice cream. People who are lactose intolerant lack a key enzyme to digest a sugar in milk known as lactose, so when they consume dairy, lactose moves from the stomach to the large intestine, where microbes break it down and produce gas in the process.
Gluten: People with celiac disease have an inflammatory immune response to gluten, a type of protein found in grains like wheat, barley, and rye. When celiac disease is untreated, eating these foods can cause gas.
Carbonated drinks: Perhaps unsurprisingly, drinks that contain gas, like sodas, seltzer, and beer, can add to gas in the body.
Sorbitol and xylitol: These artificial sweeteners, often found in chewing gum and candy, are poorly digested by the gut and can lead to bloating.
What illnesses are associated with gas?
While gas is a normal part of digestion, sometimes it can also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition or illness including carbohydrate intolerances, gastrointestinal problems or an over growth of microbes in the small intestines.
Carbohydrate intolerances: People with a carbohydrate intolerance can become gassy after consuming certain carbohydrates. One example is lactose intolerance (sugars, like lactose, are considered carbohydrates). Some people are also sensitive to fructose, a type of sugar primarily found in fruits and the sweetener known as high-fructose corn syrup.
Microorganisms in the small intestine: Bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine (where food travels immediately after leaving the stomach) can cause increased gas. Unlike the large intestine, the small intestine doesn’t usually contain many microbes. Other underlying health conditions can cause this to change.
Other conditions: Celiac disease, diabetes, constipation, peptic ulcers, dumping syndrome, and eating disorders can all lead to gas
When should you see a doctor about gas?
If gas pain is persistent or severe, or the cramping interferes with your daily life, you may require medical attention. See a doctor if gas is accompanied by changes in stool (consistency, frequency, or the appearance of blood), weight loss, chest or abdominal pain, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, or vomiting.
How is gas treated?
Gas can be treated with medical or non-medical interventions, depending on its cause. If excess gas is caused by swallowing too much air, treatment could be as simple as eating more slowly (and chew more thoroughly), drinking from a straw, taking water with meals, avoiding smoking, or getting better-fitting dentures.
If gas is caused by certain elements of your diet, you could avoid certain foods or take supplements or medications that aid digestion. Lactaid, for example, is an enzyme-based pill that helps people with lactose intolerance digest dairy; Beano, similarly, is an oral tablet that delivers enzymes that aid with digestion, reducing gas.
Other treatments include:
Antacids: This class of drugs neutralizes acid in the stomach and uses a compound called simethicone to make it easier to pass gas. Simethicone is an anti-foaming agent that breaks up gas bubbles in the gut. Some brand name examples include Mylanta, Alka-Seltzer Anti-Gas, and Maalox Anti-Gas.
Pepto-Bismol: This well-known pink over-the-counter medication, which has long been used to treat stomach upset using a compound called bismuth subsalicylate, can also help relieve excess gas.
Activated charcoal: Drugs containing activated charcoal help trap gas molecules that might otherwise lead to gas and bloating. Flatulex is a drug that contains both activated charcoal and simethicone.
Probiotics: Foods and supplements classified as probiotics add live, healthy microorganisms to the gut microbiota to help aid digestion and thus prevent gas. Fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi, kombucha, and pickles are considered probiotic. Taking probiotics can be especially helpful if your gut microbiota has become unbalanced as a result of taking antibiotics or significant changes in diet.
Herbal remedies: Some herbs, like peppermint, ginger, fennel, and chamomile, have anti-flatulent properties. These herbs can be taken as part of meals or in tea, and supplements are also available. Speak to a nutritionist, naturopath or herbalist about the best options for your symptoms.
Physical movement: Discomfort caused by gas occurs when it is stuck in the gut. Letting it out, through burping or flatulence, is the quickest way to relieve it. Light exercise, like walking, can help trapped gas move out through the intestine. Some yoga poses, especially those that massage the abdomen, can also help move gas along.
If you think you may be experiencing excess gas, the right provider can help you build a personalized plan to support your wellbeing. Connect with a credentialed expert who serves your area here.