Gas and Gas Pain

Everyone gets gas in their intestines that they pass through burping or farting. Sometimes, though, trapped gas causes pain or bloating. Most people find relief with dietary changes. Other times, people learn that gas pain is a sign of a digestive health problem. Discuss your symptoms and treatment options with your healthcare provider.


What is intestinal gas?

Intestinal gas, or just “gas” as it’s more commonly known, is air in your digestive system. It’s a natural and normal byproduct of digestion, the process your body goes through to break down the foods you eat into nutrients. Your body releases gas through your mouth when you belch (burp) or when you “break wind” (pass gas, fart or have flatulence).

Being gassy doesn’t always feel natural or normal, though, especially when too much gas gets trapped in your gut. Excess gas can cause abdominal pain, cramping or a feeling of fullness or tightness (bloating). Your belly may feel like an overinflated balloon on the verge of popping. Burping or farting can provide much needed relief as the excess air seeps out.

Still, most of us would prefer to never experience gas pain in the first place. This is especially true if you’re in public, where polite society considers normal processes like burping and farting rude. Luckily, you can usually take steps to prevent gas pain in the first place.

How common is intestinal gas?

Intestinal gas is a fact of life — a natural result of food digestion. Everyone feels gassy now and then. Most of us fart up to 20 times a day.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of trapped gas (gas pain)?

Most people recognize the telltale signs of excess gas: feeling like you need to burp or break wind. It can be embarrassing when it happens unexpectedly, but it’s usually nothing to worry about.

But when excess gas gets trapped in your gut, the feeling can range from mild discomfort to outright pain. The experience isn’t always confined to one part of your abdomen, either. Trapped gas can feel like pain or pressure in various locations throughout the trunk of your body.

Gas pain can feel like:

  • Tenderness, fullness or pressure (bloating) in your abdomen (sometimes, your belly looks visibly larger, or distended).
  • A sharp, stabbing pain or a dull ache in your abdomen.
  • Pain, pressure or discomfort on your right or left side (flank pain).
  • Pain, pressure or discomfort in your upper or lower back.
  • Pain, pressure or discomfort in your chest.

These symptoms can feel confusing because more serious conditions affecting your organs can cause similar pain and discomfort. Gas trapped on your left side can cause chest pain that’s easy to mistake for a heart attack. Gas trapped on your right side can mimic pain from gallstones or appendicitis.

If you have any questions at all about whether the pain you’re experiencing is gas or a serious condition, see a healthcare provider.

Although gas pain is usually harmless, it can signal a serious problem with your digestive system. If you’re experiencing excess gas or gas pain along with any of the following symptoms, don’t dismiss it. See a healthcare provider.

Symptoms to be on the lookout for, alongside gas pain, include:

What causes gas and gas pains?

Gas is a natural part of digestion. Everyone has gas inside their stomachs and intestines at all times. When you eat, you swallow small amounts of air that stay in your digestive system until you pass gas. Also, harmless bacteria in your large intestine break down food during digestion, releasing gas as a byproduct. This process is responsible for most gas you pass when you fart.

Gas isn’t a medical issue for most people. But it can feel especially worrisome if you have excess gas, foul-smelling gas or gas pain. Here’s why gas sometimes becomes gas pain:

  • You’re swallowing too much air. You may be gulping in too much air while chewing or drinking. Talking during meals can cause you to swallow more air. So can chewing gum, sucking hard candy, smoking or wearing loose-fitting dentures.
  • You’re consuming too many gas-producing foods. Many foods that make you gassy are good for you. The downside is that they can cause gas and (sometimes) gas pain. Culprits include beans, potatoes, corn, onions, apples and high-fiber foods in general. Foods high in sulfur, like proteins and cruciferous vegetables (like cauliflower, cabbage and broccoli), are usually the cause of foul-smelling gas.
  • You have an infection. Infections in your intestines can cause an overgrowth of bacteria that make you gassy. An overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine (SIBO) can also lead to excess gas. Bacterial overgrowths can cause other symptoms, like diarrhea and weight loss, that require treatment.
  • You have a digestive system condition. Conditions like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease and lactose intolerance can overwork your digestive system or lead to slowdowns that cause excess gas. Constipation can cause poop and gas to get stuck in your intestine.
  • You’re taking a medicine that slows your bowels. A digestive system that moves more slowly creates more of an opportunity for gas to build up in your gut. Certain digestive system conditions can slow your bowels, and so can some medications.

Diagnosis and Tests

How are intestinal gas and gas pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical exam and ask about your symptoms and current medications. They may ask you to keep a food diary for a few weeks or more to see if certain foods or drinks make you gassy.

Usually, this is all it takes to determine what’s causing gas pain.

What tests will be done?

If your provider suspects excess gas signals an underlying health condition, you may need one or more of these tests:

  • Blood tests: These tests detect certain conditions, like celiac disease, that cause gas.
  • Breath test: Special breath tests identify lactose intolerance or abnormal bacterial growth in your intestine.
  • Colon screening: A flexible sigmoidoscopy lets your provider view the lower part of your colon and rectum (lower intestine). A colonoscopy allows your provider to view all of your large intestine. These tests help identify digestive disorders like Crohn’s disease and colon cancer.
  • Food elimination: Your healthcare provider may suggest removing certain foods to see if gas symptoms improve. For example, if you’re less gassy after cutting out dairy, you may have lactose intolerance — which means you’re unable to break down lactose, a sugar in milk.
  • Gastrointestinal (GI) tract exam: If you burp a lot, your provider may perform a gastrointestinal exam called an upper GI test or barium swallow (esophagram). You swallow a solution that coats the esophagus, stomach and part of the small intestine with barium for easier viewing on X-rays.

Management and Treatment

How is intestinal gas managed or treated?

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all treatment for gas pain or excess gas. You may need to change what you eat or drink or take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-gas medications. You may have an underlying condition that your provider needs to treat.

Your healthcare provider will try to find out what’s causing your gas issue, but sometimes the cause remains a mystery. But even if there aren’t clear answers, you can still receive treatments that provide relief.

Changing your eating and drinking habits

You can often treat or prevent gas pain by changing what you eat and drink.

  • Cut back on high-fiber foods. Many foods containing carbohydrates cause gas, including foods that are good for you, like veggies, fruits, wheat and beans. A food diary can help you determine which foods make you gassy. But don’t cut out too much. You need fiber — just not so much that it’s hurting your gut.
  • Reduce or avoid carbonated (fizzy) drinks. The fizz from soda or pop feels fantastic when it’s tickling your nose, but it also adds extra air into your gut that can cause gas pain. If you’re experiencing gas pain, avoiding carbonated beverages is a good idea. Instead, reach for water. It doesn’t add air to your gut, and it also helps prevent constipation — another culprit that causes gas pain.
  • Cut back on dairy. Many people with excess gas learn they’re lactose intolerant. You may need tests to determine if this is the case. In the meantime, cut back on dairy or try lactose-free substitutes to experiment and see how you feel.
  • Try the low FODMAP diet. The low FODMAP diet substitutes carbohydrates that are difficult for your body to break down with more easily digestible alternatives. It also recommends alternatives for sugars (like lactose, fructose and artificial sweeteners) that can be tough on your gut. It can help you eliminate gas pain without sacrificing nutrient intake.

In addition to changing what you eat and drink, you can change how you eat and drink. If excess gas is an issue for you:

  • Avoid using straws, which introduce extra air into your gut.
  • Avoid sucking on hard candy or chewing gum, which causes you to swallow more air.
  • Don’t talk while you’re eating (or if that sounds miserable, try to talk less, so you’re not taking in as much air).
  • Make sure your dentures or any mouthpieces fit correctly.
  • Sit down for meals instead of eating on the go, and chew your food slowly.
  • Change your mealtime schedule so you’re eating more frequent smaller meals a day instead of a few larger ones.

Taking medications

For occasional gas, your healthcare provider might suggest one of these over-the-counter products:

  • Alpha-galactosidase (Beano®), an enzyme that breaks down hard-to-digest foods.
  • Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®) for adults with upset stomach and diarrhea.
  • Lactase enzymes (Lactaid®) for lactose intolerance (a problem digesting milk sugars).
  • Probiotics (Culturelle®) to get rid of bad gut bacteria.
  • Simethicone (Gas-X®, Mylanta®) to reduce intestinal gas buildup that causes bloating.

Prescription medications may help if you have an underlying condition affecting your digestive system, like IBS. Antibiotics can treat bacterial overgrowth in your intestines that cause excess gas and bloating.



Can I prevent intestinal gas?

No. Gas in your gut is a fact of life. There’s nothing more human than burping or passing gas. But, you can prevent gas pain by minding what you eat and drink. In some cases, you may have an underlying condition making you gassy that requires medical treatment. Contact your healthcare provider if you have frequent gas pain and aren’t sure why.

Living With

When should I call my healthcare provider?

You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:

  • Pain in your chest or abdomen that may signal a serious condition, like a heart attack.
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort that doesn’t happen during or shortly after you eat.
  • Severe abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation.
  • Tarry, black stool or rectal bleeding.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider?

You may want to ask your healthcare provider:

  • Could a medical condition be making me gassy?
  • What tests can determine what’s causing my gas pain?
  • What steps can I take to cut down on intestinal gas?
  • What foods or drinks should I avoid?
  • How can I tell the difference between gas and something more serious?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

While intestinal gas is common, the symptoms — belching, farting, bloating and stomach discomfort — can be embarrassing and even painful. Often you can reduce gas pain by changing what or how you eat. Sometimes, though, frequent gas pain signals a health condition your healthcare provider needs to diagnose. Talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/23/2024.

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