Trapped Gas Pain and Other IBS Abdominal Pain Sources

It is common for people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to blame abdominal pain on trapped intestinal gas, but there can be other sources of this discomfort. Some foods contain elements that are acted on by gut bacteria with the result of intestinal gas.

Because of a problem in IBS called visceral hypersensitivity (enhanced pain sensation), this gas can become quite painful. However, trapped gas is not the only thing that can cause the abdominal pain associated with IBS.

Is it gas or IBS-related stomach pain?
Verywell / Cindy Chung

Other Causes of IBS Pain

The causes of abdominal pain in IBS are quite complicated and poorly understood. The close neural connections between your brain and your gut can result in visceral hypersensitivity even in the absence of intestinal gas. This phenomenon is particularly likely if you have been experiencing a lot of stress.

Another key factor in IBS is the motility dysfunction that results in the symptoms of diarrhea and constipation. This same motor problem can also result in painful cramping or spasms of the muscles within the large intestine. To make things even more confusing, pain within the body is known to radiate away from the original site.

Is It Gas or IBS?

One way to distinguish between abdominal pain caused by gas and pain caused by IBS is to look at other factors and symptoms.

  • Pain shifts (from upper abdomen to chest or rib cage, for example)

  • You're constipated or overdue to have a bowel movement

  • You're passing wind

  • You recently ate gassy foods

  • Pain is widespread—as if large parts of your colon are hurting

  • Pain radiates upward

  • You have cramps or feel as if your colon is in spasms

  • You're anxious or under stress

How to Address the Pain Problem

After you have identified what might be causing your pain symptoms, tailor your management strategies accordingly.

Toilet Habits

You don't need to sit on the toilet for an extended period to ensure you've completely emptied to avoid "trapping in" any gas. This kind of thinking can enhance anxiety and sensations of incomplete evacuation, not to mention increasing a risk of hemorrhoids from excessive straining. 

Gas-Related Pain

If you determine that your problems are probably gas-related, look into strategies that target that symptom. Gas-related problems are more likely to be food-related, and if your symptoms are severe, you might benefit from a low FODMAPs diet. If your symptoms are less severe, you may try over-the-counter gas relievers.

Visceral Hypersensitivity

If you think that your abdominal pain is more likely the result of the visceral hypersensitivity and motility problems inherent in IBS, relax. This is where the various mind/body approaches, such as relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation might be of most help.

Muscle Spasms and Cramps

If your pain appears to be more muscle-related, e.g. cramps and spasms, you may benefit from antispasmodic medications, peppermint tea, or peppermint capsules.

A Word From Verywell

You need coping strategies for the abdominal pain typical of IBS, no matter what the source problem. While you may be using self-care, you should also discuss this pain with your doctor and know when severe stomach pain should be treated in the ER.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Seo AY, Kim N, Oh DH. Abdominal bloating: pathophysiology and treatment. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2013;19(4):433-53. doi:10.5056/jnm.2013.19.4.433

  2. Farzaei MH, Bahramsoltani R, Abdollahi M, Rahimi R. The role of visceral hypersensitivity in irritable bowel syndrome: Pharmacological targets and novel treatments. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2016;22(4):558-574. doi:10.5056/jnm16001

  3. Sarna SK. Colonic Motility: From Bench Side to Bedside. San Rafael (CA): Morgan & Claypool Life Sciences; 2010.

  4. Lacy BE, Gabbard SL, Crowell MD. Pathophysiology, evaluation, and treatment of bloating: hope, hype, or hot air?. Gastroenterol Hepatol (N Y). 2011;7(11):729-39.

  5. Capili B, Anastasi JK, Chang M. Addressing the role of food in irritable bowel syndrome symptom management. J Nurse Pract. 2016;12(5):324-329. doi:10.1016/j.nurpra.2015.12.007

  6. Grundmann O, Yoon SL. Complementary and alternative medicines in irritable bowel syndrome: an integrative view. World J Gastroenterol. 2014;20(2):346-62. doi:10.3748/wjg.v20.i2.346

  7. Alammar N, Wang L, Saberi B, et al. The impact of peppermint oil on the irritable bowel syndrome: a meta-analysis of the pooled clinical data. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2019;19(1):21. doi:10.1186/s12906-018-2409-0

Additional Reading