Is having gas normal or is it a sign of a medical problem?
Everyone has gas and gets rid of it by burping and by passing it through the rectum. Many people think they have too much gas, when most of the time they really have normal amounts. Most people produce about 1 to 3 pints a day and pass gas about 14 to 23 times a day.
Gas is made primarily of odorless vapors -- carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane. The unpleasant odor of gas comes from bacteria in the large intestine that release small amounts of gases that contain sulfur.
Although having gas is common, it can be uncomfortable and embarrassing. Understanding causes, ways to reduce symptoms, and treatment will help most people find relief.
What are some symptoms and problems of gas?
The most common symptoms of gas are belching, flatulence, abdominal bloating, and abdominal pain. However, not everyone experiences these symptoms. The determining factors probably are how much gas the body produces, how many fatty acids the body absorbs, and a person's sensitivity to gas in the large intestine. Chronic symptoms caused by too much gas or by a serious disease are rare.
An occasional belch during or after meals is normal and releases gas when the stomach is full of food. However, people who belch frequently may be swallowing too much air and releasing it before the air enters the stomach. Sometimes a person with chronic belching may have an upper GI disorder, such as peptic ulcer disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), or gastritis.
Believing that swallowing air and releasing it will relieve the discomfort of these disorders, this person may unintentionally develop a habitual cycle of belching and discomfort. Frequently, the pain continues or worsens, leading the person to believe he or she has a serious disorder. An extreme example of this is Meganblase syndrome, which causes chronic belching. This syndrome is characterized by severe air swallowing and an enlarged bubble of gas in the stomach following heavy meals. The resulting fullness and shortness of breath may mimic a heart attack.
This gas syndrome is usually correctable by making behavioral changes. Gas-bloat syndrome may occur after surgery to correct GERD. The surgery creates a one-way valve between the esophagus and stomach that allows food and gas to enter the stomach, but often prevents normal belching and the ability to vomit. Surgery may be needed to correct gas-bloat syndrome.
Another common complaint is passage of too much gas through the rectum (flatulence). However, most people do not realize that passing gas 14 to 23 times a day is normal. Although rare, too much gas may be the result of carbohydrate malabsorption or overactive bacteria in the colon.
Many people believe that too much gas causes abdominal bloating. However, people who complain of bloating from gas often have normal amounts and distribution of gas. They actually may be unusually aware of gas in the digestive tract.
Doctors believe that bloating is usually the result of an intestinal motility disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Motility disorders are characterized by abnormal movements and contractions of intestinal muscles. These disorders may give a false sensation of bloating because of increased sensitivity to gas.
Any disease that causes intestinal obstruction (for example, Crohn's disease or colon cancer) may also cause abdominal bloating. In addition, people who have had many operations, adhesions (scar tissue), or internal hernias may experience bloating or pain. Finally, eating a lot of fatty food can delay stomach emptying and cause bloating and discomfort, but not necessarily too much gas.
Abdominal pain and discomfort
Some people have pain when gas is present in the intestine. When gas collects on the left side of the colon, the pain can be confused with heart disease. When it collects on the right side of the colon, the pain may feel like the pain associated with gallstones or appendicitis.