What is Bloating, Gas and Flatulence?
What are Bloating, Gas and Flatulence?

Gas and gas pains can strike at the worst possible moment during an important meeting or on a crowded elevator. And although passing intestinal gas (flatus) usually isn't serious, it can be embarrassing.

Anything that causes intestinal gas or is associated with constipation or diarrhea can lead to gas pains. These pains generally occur when gas builds up in your intestines, and you're not able to expel it. On average, most people pass gas at least 10 times a day.

The good news is that although you can't stop gas and gas pains, a few simple measures can help reduce the amount of gas you produce and relieve your discomfort and embarrassment.

Symptoms

For most people, the signs and symptoms of gas and gas pain are all too obvious. They include:

1) The voluntary or involuntary passing of gas, either as belches or as flatus.
2) Sharp, jabbing pains or cramps in your abdomen. These pains may occur anywhere in your abdomen and can change locations quickly.
3) A "knotted" feeling in your abdomen.
4) Swelling and tightness in your abdomen (bloating).


Gas pains are usually intense, but brief. Once the gas is gone, your pain often disappears. In some cases, however, the pain may be constant or so intense that it feels like something is seriously wrong.

Gas can sometimes be mistaken for:

1) Heart disease
2) Gallstones
3) Appendicitis

It is considered normal to pass gas as flatus between 10 to 20 times a day.

1) Severe, prolonged or recurrent abdominal pain
2) Nausea or vomiting
3) Bloody stools
4) Weight loss
5) Fever
6) Chest pain

In addition, talk to your doctor if your gas or gas pains are so persistent or severe that they interfere with your ability to live a normal life. In most cases, treatment can help reduce or alleviate the problem.

Causes

Gas forms when bacteria in your colon ferment carbohydrates that aren't digested in your small intestine. Unfortunately, healthy, high-fiber foods are often the worst offenders. Fiber has many health benefits, including keeping your digestive tract in good working order and regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels. But fiber can also lead to the formation of gas.

High-fiber foods that commonly cause gas and gas pains include:

1) Fruits
2) Vegetables
3) Whole grains
4) Beans and peas (legumes)

Fiber supplements containing psyllium, such as Metamucil, may cause such problems, especially if added to your diet too quickly. Carbonated beverages, such as soda and beer, also are causes of gas.

Other causes of excess gas include:

Swallowed air. You swallow air every time you eat or drink. You may also swallow air when you're nervous, eat too fast, chew gum, suck on candies or drink through a straw. Some of that air finds its way into your lower digestive tract.

Another health condition. Excess gas may be a symptom of a more serious chronic condition. Examples include diverticulitis or an inflammatory bowel disease, such as ulcerative colitis or Crohns disease.

Antibiotics. In some cases of excess gas, antibiotic use may be a factor because antibiotics disrupt the normal bacterial flora in your bowel.

Laxatives. Excessive use of laxatives also may contribute to problems with excess gas.

Constipation. Constipation may make it difficult to pass gas, leading to bloating and discomfort.

Food intolerances. If your gas and bloating occur mainly after eating dairy products, it may be because your body is not able to break down the sugar (lactose) in dairy foods. Many people are not able to process lactose efficiently after age 6, and even infants are sometimes lactose intolerant. Other food intolerances, especially to gluten a protein found in wheat and some other grains also can result in excess gas, diarrhea and even weight loss.

Artificial additives. It is also possible that your system can not tolerate artificial sweeteners, such as sorbitol and mannitol, found in some sugar-free foods, gums and candies. Many healthy people develop gas and diarrhea when they consume these sweeteners.

Western Medicine Treatment

If your gas pains are caused by another health problem, treating the underlying condition may offer relief. Otherwise, bothersome gas is generally treated with dietary measures, lifestyle modifications or over-the-counter medications. Although the solution isn't the same for everyone, with a little trial and error, most people are able to find some relief.

Diet

The following dietary changes may help reduce the amount of gas your body produces or help gas move more quickly through your system:

Try to identify and avoid the foods that affect you the most. Foods that cause gas problems for many people include beans, onions, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, sugar-free candies and chewing gum, whole-wheat bread, bran cereals or muffins, milk, cream, ice cream, ice milk, and beer, sodas and other carbonated beverages.

Try cutting back on fried and fatty foods. Often, bloating results from eating fatty foods. Fat delays stomach emptying and can increase the sensation of fullness.

Temporarily cut back on high-fiber foods. Add them back gradually over weeks. If you take a fiber supplement, try cutting back on the amount you take and build up your intake gradually. If your symptoms persist, you might try a different fiber supplement. Be sure to take fiber supplements with at least 8 ounces of water and drink plenty of liquids throughout each day.

Reduce your use of dairy products. Try using low-lactose dairy foods, such as yogurt, instead of milk. Or try using products that help digest lactose, such as Lactaid or Dairy Ease. Consuming small amounts of milk products at one time or consuming them with other foods also may make them easier to digest. In some cases, however, you may need to eliminate dairy foods completely.


Over-the-counter remedies

Some products may help, but they are not always effective. Consider trying:

Beano. Add Beano to beans and vegetables to help reduce the amount of gas they produce. For Beano to be effective, you need to take it with your first bite of food. It works best when there's only a little gas in your intestines.

Lactase supplements. Supplements of the enzyme lactase (Lactaid, Dairy Ease), which helps you digest lactose, may help if you are lactose intolerant. You might also try dairy products that are lactose-free or have reduced lactose. They're available at most grocery stores.

Simethicone. Over-the-counter products that contain simethicone (Gas-X, Gelusil, Mylanta, Mylicon) help break up the bubbles in gas. Although these products are widely used, they have not been proven effective for gas and gas pain.

Activated charcoal. Charcoal tablets (CharcoCaps, Charcoal Plus, others) also may help. You take them before and after a meal. They are available in natural food stores and many drugstores.

Adopted from mayoclinic.com