Gas and Gas Pain

What causes gas?

Everyone has gas. Burping and “passing gas” is normal. You swallow air every time you eat or drink. You may also swallow air when you're nervous, eat too fast, chew gum or drink through a straw. Some of that air finds its way into your lower digestive tract. But most lower intestinal gas is produced when bacteria in your colon ferment carbohydrates that aren't digested in your small intestine.

What are the symptoms of gas?

Most of the time, gas in the body is odorless. The odor of passed gas comes from sulfur made by bacteria in the large intestine. Sometimes gas causes bloating and pain. Not everyone has these symptoms. How much gas the body makes and how sensitive a person is to gas in the large intestine have an effect on how uncomfortable one feels.

How is it diagnosed?

Your health care provider will evaluate your medical history and dietary intake to help determine the cause of your gas and gas pains as well as to rule out other medical conditions.

How is it treated?

If your gas pains are caused by another health problem, treating the underlying condition may offer relief. Otherwise, bothersome gas is generally treated with dietary measures and lifestyle modifications:

  • Cut down on foods that cause gas. This typically includes beans, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, artichokes, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, sugar-free candies, chewing gum, carbonated beverages, beer, fruit drinks, wheat bread, and bran
  • Cut back on fried and fatty foods
  • Reduce the use of dairy products such as cheese and ice-cream
  • Reduce the amount of air you swallow during meals by eating slowly
  • Avoid chewing gum and eating hard candy

Over-the-counter remedies that may help with gas include:

  • Beano: a supplement added to beans and vegetables to help reduce the amount of gas produced
  • Lactase supplements: use if you are lactose intolerant or try lactose-free dairy products
  • Simethicone: a medication that helps break up the bubbles in gas
  • Activated charcoal: available at natural food stores

When to seek medical advice

It is normal to pass gas between 10 to 20 times a day. However, call your doctor if you have severe, prolonged or recurrent pain in your abdomen, especially if you also have nausea, vomiting, bleeding, weight loss, fever or chest pain. In addition, talk to your doctor if your gas or gas pains are so persistent or severe that they interfere with your ability to live a normal life. In most cases, treatment can help reduce or alleviate the problem.