Symptoms and Treatment of Intestinal Gas

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Gas is a completely normal part of digestion, and everyone has intestinal gas. Additionally, uncomfortable gas symptoms are common, sometimes necessitating prescription gas medication or a visit to a gastroenterologist.

In most cases, trapped gas is not a symptom of a disease or a condition, although it can be embarrassing, painful, and uncomfortable. If your gas is not improving with changes in diet and lifestyle habits, see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.

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Gas can be created by swallowing air during eating or drinking, or it can develop during the digestive process. When food is not broken down completely in the small intestine, it passes through to the large intestine where the bacteria digests food further and also creates gas. Some foods that cause many people to have gas include dairy products, beans, and artificial sweeteners.

Symptoms

The symptoms of gas include:

  • Belching. Belching can occur from swallowing air or drinking carbonated drinks.
  • Flatulence. Passing gas from the rectum is most often a result of diet and the digestive process, but in rare cases can be from other causes.
  • Abdominal bloating. Unreleased gas in the digestive tract can cause bloating.
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort. Pain from gas is not uncommon but is usually relieved when the gas is passed.

Causes

Excessive air swallowing. We swallow air when we eat and drink, whether or not we are aware of it. Slurping drinks, eating too fast, talking while eating, drinking through a straw, and chewing gum can all cause excess air to enter the digestive tract. Once this air gets in, it must then get out, usually through belching. Changing eating habits can help reduce gas from this cause.

Food. There are some foods that are well-known for causing gas, such as beans, corn, broccoli, and cabbage. Dairy can result in gas, especially for those who have lactose intolerance. Carbonated beverages and gum can lead to belching. Sugar substitutes, which can include sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol, may also cause excess gas for some people.

Lactose Intolerance. Lactose intolerance is a common problem that is caused by the lack of the enzyme that breaks down lactose (a type of sugar in milk). Abstaining from milk products may improve the symptoms of gas, and continued avoidance is the usual treatment. Lactose-free milk products are now available for those who want to rid their diet of lactose.

Diagnosis

Food diary. Most often, gas can be traced back to diet. Keeping a detailed food and symptom diary can help determine whether your diet is contributing to problems with gas. Nothing special is needed to keep a diary; pen and paper will do just fine. A spreadsheet is also a good way to keep track of your diet, and there are also many smartphone apps that can be used.

Ruling out disease. Gas is not usually caused by a disease or a disorder, but if gas is excessive and not caused by diet, your healthcare provider may look for other causes. After you discuss your medical history with your healthcare provider and have a physical, you might need some diagnostic tests. Some conditions that may be associated with gas include celiac disease, diabetes, scleroderma, and small bowel bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

Tests that may be used to evaluate excess gas include:

  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Upper GI series
  • CT scan
  • Stool tests
  • Breath tests

Treatments

Diet. The first step and the one with the fewest possible side effects is to change your diet. You can start by avoiding foods that are known to commonly cause gas in most people. In addition to eliminating foods that commonly cause gas, you can also use your food diary to figure out which foods cause you to have gas.

A certain amount of trial-and-error can help in finding which method(s) will work best in reducing gas. But overall, it shouldn't take long before you can tell if this approach is helpful.

Over the Counter (OTC) Medications

There are several effective treatments for gas that can be found right in the drugstore.

  • If you are lactose intolerant, you can take OTC lactase when you drink milk products so that you can digest the lactose, thereby avoiding gas.
  • Beano is another digestive enzyme that can be taken to reduce the gas caused by eating beans, vegetables, and grains.
  • Simethicone (brand names include Phazyme, Flatulex, Mylicon, Gas-X, and Mylanta Gas) may not help with preventing gas but may help in passing gas more easily.

Antacids may not help with excess gas. Activated charcoal has not been proven to reduce gas, and should not be taken at the same time as other medications, as there is a risk of reducing their effectiveness.

Prescription Gas Medications

If gas persists, you might have a breath test, which can help detect bacterial overgrowth. If your test is positive you might be given a prescription for rifaximin, an antibiotic that can help reduce gas causing bacteria.

A Word From Verywell

While gas affects many people, in most cases it is not serious and is not an indicator of a serious disease present. A change in diet and lifestyle can often help with reducing your gas symptoms. People often think they have too much gas when in fact they have a normal amount, but if you are concerned about the amount of gas you have or it is causing a significant amount of discomfort, speak to your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
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