Gas (flatulence), Belching, and Bloating

Gas (flatulence), Belching, and Bloating

These three symptoms can be annoying and, at times, they may be embarrassing or painful. 

The Meaning of Gas

The use of the term, gas, may be confusing.  As far as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, it may be:

  • Gas in the GI tract - it results in belching, flatulence, or bloating

  • Gas or flatulence - it is expelled from the rectum

However, the presence of gas within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract is part of its normal functioning. The main gases - hydrogen, methane, nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide, are produced from the breakdown of carbohydrates in the diet by intestinal bacteria.

What Are Flatulence, Belching, And Bloating?

Flatulence

Flatulence is expelled from the rectum. It is made up of swallowed air, as well as the gas from the breakdown of carbohydrates in the GI tract

Belching 

Belching, or burping, is gas that comes out of the mouth from an accumulation of swallowed air in the stomach

Bloating

Bloating is the feeling of fullness, pressure, or trapped gas in the abdomen (belly). It is usually associated with a visible increase in the size of the abdomen (distension). Bloating results from increased gas in the GI tract.

What Causes Gas?

The gas in the GI tract, the flatus, is the source of flatulence, belching, and bloating. These symptoms occur when a person has one or more of the following:

  • Increased production of gas

  • Change in the movement of gas through the GI tract

  • Increased sensitivity to a normal (or a small increase) amount of gas in the GI tract

Some causes of gas are not completely understood. As an example, changes in bacterial growth in the intestines may be associated with increased gas.

Medical Conditions, Diet, And Habits

Medical Conditions

A person with certain medical conditions may have increased flatulence, belching, and/or bloating such as:

  • Problems with carbohydrate metabolism

    • Lactose (natural sugar in milk) intolerance 

    • Fructose (natural sugar in fruit) intolerance

    • Celiac disease (gluten intolerance)

  • Functional bowel disorders (a problem with the way the GI tract works)

    • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)

    • Functional constipation

    • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

  • Conditions affecting the movement of gas in the GI tract

    • Adhesions (scarring from surgery)

    • Hernia (a bulging organ, for example, the intestines may protrude through weakened muscle)

    • Obstruction (a blockage in the bowel)

Diet

Habits

Some common habits increase the amount of air a person swallows, as well as gas in the intestines. Some of them are:

  • Chewing gum

  • Drinking carbonated beverages

  • Eating and drinking too fast or not thoroughly chewing food

  • Smoking

What Is The Treatment For Gas, Belching, And Bloating?

Treating Medical Conditions

When gas is associated with an underlying medical condition, treating the condition often lessens the gas, belching, and bloating. Some of the treatments specifically help relieve gas. For example, proton pump inhibitor (PPI) medicines used for GERD, help relieve belching.

Dietary Changes

A dietitian can help determine food intolerances - which food/s and ingredients may be causing gas. They can help identify foods with gas-causing ingredients that may not be obvious.

An elimination diet may be recommended in order to determine gas-causing foods. The diet limits many foods and may result in the loss of important nutrients. As a result, anyone on an elimination diet should be followed by a dietitian.

Some specific food and beverages to consider avoiding include:

  • Carbonated drinks and coffee

  • Cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, beans, and bran

  • Chewing gum

  • Milk and other dairy products

  • Sugar-free gum, candy, and mints

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle changes to help lessen gas include:

Help for Belching

Diaphragmatic breathing, also called belly (abdominal) breathing, is one of the therapies that can help lessen belching. It involves slow, deep breathing; in through the nose, and out through the mouth. 

Medicines

Medicines, both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), as well as supplements, may be recommended to help reduce gas. 

  • OTC medicines and supplements, for example, simethicone, peppermint oil, and probiotics

  • Psyllium, a type of fiber, for those with gas related to constipation, helps improve the movement of stool through the intestines 

  • Prescription medicines, like antispasmodics, reduce cramping

There are mixed opinions as to the effectiveness of some medicines, like antacids and antidepressants.

What Can I Do To Prevent Gas, Belching, And Bloating?

Looking at the causes and ways to treat gas, provides information about how to prevent it. In other words, treating conditions associated with increased gas, avoiding certain foods, and changing habits, also help to prevent it.

For More Information

American College of Gastroenterology (2022). Belching, Bloating, and Flatulence. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://gi.org/topics/belching-bloating-and-flatulence/

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (2022). Gas in the Digestive Tract. Retrieved 10-29-2022 from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gas-digestive-tract