What is it?
It’s something that we’re all familiar with and, in most cases, embarrassed by. You’re probably wondering what I’m talking about…gas. While it might be common, the majority of people don’t want to have it. What can you do to reduce it? Can it be prevented?
The formation of gas in your intestines is a normal part of the digestive process. Gas in your stomach results from swallowing air when you eat or drink. Your body gets rid of this type through burping. Gas can form in your large intestines when the bacteria that live there ferment carbohydrates, such as fiber, some starches, and some sugars, that aren’t digested by your small intestines. The bacteria can consume some of the gas, but the rest is released when you pass gas from your anus (flatus). Most people pass gas up to 20 times a day.
Common signs of having gas are burping or passing gas. However, if gas gets trapped or isn’t moving well through your digestive system, you can have pain in your stomach. Sometimes, this pain might feel like cramps or a knotted feeling. You can also have bloating (a feeling of fullness or pressure in your abdomen) and distention (an observable increase in the size of your stomach).
Usually, having intestinal gas isn’t a sign of a medical problem. You should see a doctor if you have it and bloody stools, change in consistency of stools, change in frequency of bowel movements, weight loss, constipation/diarrhea, or persistent/recurrent nausea or vomiting. If you have prolonged abdominal pain or chest pain, you should go to the nearest emergency room.
Some things are more likely to cause gas, such as high-fiber foods (ex. beans, peas, fruits, vegetables, and whole grains). It’s important to note that you need to consume fiber to keep your digestive tract healthy and to help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol levels. You’re more likely to experience gas if you drink carbonated beverages, eat too quickly, drink through a straw, chew gum, suck on candies, or talk while chewing. You’re more likely to have gas if you consume sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol. Also, fiber supplements containing psyllium, such as Metamucil, may increase gas.
Some medical conditions can increase gas, bloating, and gas pain. Chronic conditions, like diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis, or Crohn’s disease, are more likely to result in more gas production. If you have an increase or change in the bacteria that reside in your small intestines, you can have an increase in gas. If your digestive system can’t break down and absorb certain foods (dairy products or gluten), you can experience gas. If you’re constipated, it’s harder for your body to pass gas.
If an underlying medical condition causes your gas and gas pain, the primary goal of treatment is to manage that disorder. For all other types, it’s treated with diet changes, lifestyle modifications, and over-the-counter medicines. An essential step is to keep a diary of your diet and symptoms. This will help you to figure out what is causing your gas. It can be a good idea to reduce/eliminate high-fiber foods, such as beans, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, whole wheat, and bran. Try avoiding high-fiber foods for a couple of weeks and gradually add them back. Just make sure you’re still consuming enough fiber, so you don’t end up constipated. Your doctor can guide you with this. Also, reduce dairy products, try lactose-free dairy products, or take milk products supplemented with lactase to help with digestion. Remove sugar substitutes from your diet or try a different substitute. Since dietary fat delays the clearance of gas from the intestines, cutting back on fried or fatty foods may help. Avoid or reduce your intake of carbonated beverages. If you use a fiber supplement, talk to your doctor about the amount and type of supplement that is best for you. To help prevent constipation, drink water with your meals and throughout the day.
There are other things that you can try to reduce the amount of gas you have. Since many of the foods that can cause gas are part of a healthy diet, eat smaller portions to see if your body can handle them without creating excess gas. A vital step is to eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly. Don’t gulp drinks and avoid straws. Also, avoid chewing gum and sucking on hard candies. If you wear dentures, make sure they fit correctly, or you could be swallowing excess air with you eat. Since cigarette smoking can increase the amount of air you swallow, avoid it. Be sure to get regular exercise because it reduces the risk of constipation.
There are several different medicines you can take that can help with gas. Alpha-galactosidases, such as Beano, help break down carbohydrates in beans and other vegetables. For it to work, you take the supplement just before eating a meal. Lactase supplements, like Lactaid, help you digest the sugar in dairy products (lactose). Simethicone, also known as Gas-X, breaks up the bubbles in gas and may help it pass through your digestive tract. Activated charcoal, or Actidose-Aqua, is taken before and after a meal may reduce symptoms. However, the benefits aren’t clear, and it may interfere with your body’s ability to absorb medications.
It’s impossible to prevent all gas completely. However, by following the dietary changes and lifestyle modifications discussed in the treatment section, you’ll reduce your chances of having to deal with large amounts of gas and gas pain. Since these two are the primary concerns for most people, this can be beneficial.
No one wants to deal with gas, especially gas pain. By following the steps mentioned, you’ll significantly reduce your chances! If you have any questions or concerns about flatus, please speak with your doctor. If you would like more information, please visit Cleveland Clinic’s gas and gas pain page at https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/7314-gas-and-gas-pain