Why It Happens
It's normal to have some gas. Each day, most people make 1 to 3 pints of it as we digest our food. It escapes 14 to 23 times a day, one way or the other. But if the gas can't easily get out, you may feel uncomfortable and bloated.
The gas inside you builds up two ways. Some of it starts as air that you swallow along with your food. Most of that goes away when you burp, but a little flows on into you. Your large intestine makes the rest of the gas as it breaks down your food. That gas goes out your backside.
Sometimes, you make more gas than you can handle, or some gets stuck inside you. When that happens, your body tells you. You may have pain, cramps, or a knotted feeling in your belly. Or you may get a feeling of fullness or pressure, especially in the upper part of your belly, which might be bloating if you overeat or from gas.
Slow Down Dining
There's no way to eat without swallowing air. But some habits can make it worse. If you eat fast or talk as you eat, you gulp down extra air. You also pull in more air if you drink through a straw, chew gum, or suck on hard candy between meals. Still more air gets in if you smoke. Dentures that don’t fit right also let in extra air.
You probably already know about many of the foods that generate more gas than others do, such as beans, broccoli, and onions. But so can fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears. Bran, whole wheat, and some dairy products (cheese, ice cream, and yogurt) can also do that.
Since each of us reacts to food our own way, try cutting these out of your diet one at a time and see if that helps.
Watch What You Drink
Fizzy bubbles from carbonated drinks and beer release air inside you. Milk, apple juice, and pear juice can also cause gas. So can fruit punch and other fruit drinks. If you like to drink any of these, do the same test as with food. Try dropping them one at a time and see what happens.
Check on Sweeteners
Chewing gum or candy made with artificial sweeteners can lead to gas. So check the label for sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol, which you may want to limit or avoid. Drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup can be another source. Look for that on labels, too.
Besides tweaking your diet and habits, you might get help from natural remedies. Try drinking peppermint tea or chamomile tea. They should at least be refreshing. There are also dietary supplements made with anise, caraway, coriander, fennel, and turmeric. As with any supplement, ask your doctor if there are any side effects to watch for.
Over-the-counter medicine might be part of your solution. Antacids that contain simethicone free up gas bubbles in your stomach, so that it's easier to burp them away. Activated charcoal tablets may help if you swallow them before and after meals. If beans or vegetables give you gas, products can supply the chemical you need to digest them.
If you have lactose intolerance, your body can't break down the sugar in milk (lactose). Over-the-counter products help. If you add a few drops to milk or chew a tablet right before mealtime, they supply the chemical you need. Or you could choose lactose-free or non-dairy products.
If you get gas from foods that include wheat or some other grains, your doctor may test you for celiac disease. When you have it, your body can't handle gluten, a protein in wheat, barley, and rye. You'll need to go on a gluten-free diet if you have celiac disease.
When to See Your Doctor
If your pains are sharp enough or happen so often that they affect your daily life, call your doctor -- especially if you also have other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss, frequent nausea or vomiting, blood in your stools, diarrhea, and problems or changes with your bowel movements. And of course, if your "gas pains" involve chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, call 911.
What Your Doctor Will Check
Your doctor will ask what you've been feeling, give you a physical exam, and may touch or listen to your belly. You'll answer questions about what you eat. Bring any notes you've kept on what you eat and drink and when you have pain. If you have other symptoms, like weight loss or diarrhea, you may need more tests.
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