Trapped Gas Pain and Other IBS Abdominal Pain Sources

When you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), you may think your abdominal pain is from trapped intestinal gas. But some of it may come from other sources.

Intestinal gas results from the activity of gut bacteria on food. An aspect of IBS is called visceral hypersensitivity heightens pain in your digestive tract. That means the pressure from gas can become quite painful.

However, trapped gas isn't the only thing that causes abdominal pain in IBS. This article look at other causes, how to tell gas from other IBS pain, and what to do about it.

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

Causes of IBS Pain

The causes of abdominal pain in IBS aren't well understood. What's clear is that your brain and your gut work together in a complex way.

That interaction can cause visceral hypersensitivity even when you don't have gas. That's especially true if you're under a lot of stress.

Another key factor in IBS is motility dysfunction—colon contractions that are too fast or too slow. That leads to diarrhea (too fast) and constipation (too slow).

This same problem can cause painful cramping or spasms in the large intestinal muscles. Complicating matters, pain from deep inside the body can radiate away from the original site. So it may not be clear where your pain is coming from.

Recap

IBS pain is sometimes from trapped gas. But it can also result from visceral hypersensitivity, motility dysfunction, and spasming intestinal muscles. It can be hard to pinpoint the cause of your pain.

Is It Gas or IBS?

One way to distinguish gas pain and other types of IBS pain is to look at symptoms and causes. They can be fairly distinct.

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

  • Constipation/infrequent bowel movement

  • You're passing wind

  • You recently ate gassy foods

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

  • Pain radiates upward

  • Cramps/feeling like your colon is spasming

  • You're anxious or under stress

Managing IBS Pain

Once you know the source of your pain, you can take steps to alleviate it.

  • Toilet haibts: Don't sit on the toilet for long stretches trying not to "trap in" any gas. That can cause anxiety and feelings of incomplete evacuation. Excessive straining ups your risk of hemorrhoids.
  • Gas-related pain: Gas-related likely means food-related. For severe pain, you may want to try a low FODMAP diet. For milder pain, over-the-counter gas relievers might be enough.
  • Hypersensitivity/motility: Relaxation is key for relieving pain from visceral hypersensitivity and motility problems. Mind/body approaches (relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation) may help.
  • Muscle spasms and cramps: Antispasmodic medications, peppermint tea, or enteric-coated peppermint capsules can relax the muscles.

Summary

Not all IBS pain comes from trapped gas. Visceral hypersensitivity, motility dysfunction, and intestinal muscle spasms also cause pain.

Gas pain tends to be food-related. It involves shifting location, passing wind, and constipation or infrequent bowel movements. Other IBS pains tend to be stress-related, widespread, radiate upward, and feel crampy.

To relieve IBS pain, don't sit on the toilet for long spells, don't strain, try a low-FODMAP diet, learn to relax, and look into anti-spasmodic medications or peppermint supplements.

A Word From Verywell

You need coping strategies for the abdominal pain of IBS, no matter the source. Practice self-care, but also discuss pain with your healthcare provider. Remember that severe stomach pain should be treated in the ER.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the difference between gas pain and IBS pain?


    If you've eaten gassy foods and are constipated, passing gas, or pain moves around, it's likely gas. Other IBS pain tends to hit when you're stressed, cover wider areas, and have a cramping feel to it.

  • Can you have gas pain in your back or under the ribs?


    Yes, gas pain can be felt away from the site of the trapped gas. It can cause pain under the ribs or in your back. 

  • What over-the-counter medicine relieves gas pain?


    Simethicone is sold over the counter as Gas-X. It's an anti-foaming agent that helps reduce the buildup of gas in the digestive tract. 

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7 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.
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