Gas and Bloating Q&A
What is Gas?
Digestive problems of gas usually present in one or more of three ways:
Gas is caused by either swallowed air and/or as a consequence of the normal breakdown of food by harmless bacteria into forms that can be used by the body. Although gas is not usually indicative of a serious problem, it can be a symptom of an underlying issue, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), inflammatory bowel disease, gallbladder problems, GERD, and food allergies or food intolerances, to name a few. In a few cases, bloating may also be related to a blockage in the bowel that prevents the normal passage of gas.
What is Belching?
Burping or belching is the result of too much air in the stomach. Small amounts of air are swallowed when eating and drinking. However, some people swallow more air during these activities than others, and accelerated eating and drinking can cause excess air to be swallowed.
What is Bloating?
Bloating is often described as a feeling of swelling in the abdomen. Sometimes gas moves too slowly through the digestive tract as a result of poor motility, resulting in bloating. Motility refers to the contractions that automatically move food through the digestive tract. This accumulation of gas in the intestines resulting from slow transit can cause increased stretching of the bowel walls, leading to abdominal discomfort that we perceive as bloating.
What is Rectal Gas?
Rectal gas is most often produced by bacteria in the colon (the large intestine). These bacteria are beneficial to the digestion of our food and essential to the production of certain vitamins. In the process of breaking down carbohydrates (sugars) for their nutrition, bacteria generate gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen sulfide. These gases are normally harmless, but can be problematic when produced in excessive amounts.
What Can I do to Prevent Gas, Bloating, and Belching?
Gas, bloating, and belching that are related to the normal digestion of food may be reduced by avoiding foods and beverages known to cause gas, including beans and other high-fiber foods, and carbonated drinks. Taking time to chew your food properly before swallowing can help by breaking down food into more easily digestible pieces, and it can also help prevent you from swallowing air while you eat.
What Should I do if I have Chronic Gas, Bloating, and Belching?
If you experience regular bouts of gas, bloating, and/or belching you should be evaluated for the presence of a digestive disorder or disease that could be causing these symptoms. During your evaluation, you’ll be asked about your symptoms, how often they occur, and if they’re accompanied by pain or other symptoms. You’ll also be asked to provide a medical history to look for clues. A digestion breath test is often ordered in patients with these sets of symptoms. In some cases, diagnostic imaging tests like ultrasound or CT scans may be ordered, and diagnostic procedures like colonoscopy or endoscopy may also be ordered. Based on those results, a treatment plan can be recommended which may include medication, dietary or other lifestyle changes, or surgery.
One very common cause of gas and bloating is small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). SIBO is tested for using a lactulose hydrogen breath test-kit, which is often take-home.