How is gas treated?
Most of the time, treatment of the symptoms of gas requires an approach that includes both dietary adjustment and medication. The most common ways to reduce the discomfort of gas are changing diet, taking medication, and reducing the amount of air swallowed.
Your doctor may tell you to eat fewer foods that cause gas. However, for some people this may mean cutting out healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and milk products.
Your doctor may also suggest limiting high-fat foods to reduce bloating and discomfort. This helps the stomach empty faster, allowing gases to move into the small intestine.
Unfortunately, the amount of gas caused by certain foods varies from person to person. Effective dietary changes depend on learning through trial and error how much of the offending foods one can handle.
Many non-prescription, over-the-counter medicines are available to help reduce symptoms. Such medicines include antacids with simethicone and activated charcoal. Digestive enzymes, such as lactase supplements, actually help digest carbohydrates and may allow people to eat foods that normally cause gas. Medicines available include:
- Antacids, such as Mylanta II®, Maalox II® and Di-Gel®, contain simethicone, a foaming agent that joins gas bubbles in the stomach so that gas is more easily belched away. The recommended dose is 2 to 4 tablespoons of the simethicone preparation taken 1/2 to 2 hours after meals.
- Activated charcoal tablets may provide relief from gas in the colon. Studies have shown that intestinal gas is greatly reduced when these are taken before and after a meal. The usual dose is two to four tablets taken just before eating and one hour after meals.
- For those with lactose intolerance, enzyme lactase--which aids with lactose digestion--is available in liquid and tablet form without a prescription (Lactaid®, Lactrase®, and Dairy Ease®). Adding a few drops of liquid lactase to milk before drinking it or chewing lactase tablets just before eating helps digest foods that contain lactose. Also, lactose-reduced milk and other products are available at many grocery stores.
- Bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol®) can reduce odor that comes from the breakdown to hydrogen sulfide. It may also be helpful for some other malodorous forms of flatus. Excess or long-term use is not suggested as it can cause bismuth toxicity in patients allergic to aspirin.
- Beano®, an over-the-counter digestive aid, contains the sugar-digesting enzyme that the body lacks to digest the sugar in beans and many vegetables. The enzyme comes in liquid form. Three to 10 drops per serving are added to food just before eating to break down the gas-producing sugars. Beano has no effect on gas caused by lactose or fiber.
- Probiotics are healthy bacteria that can be found in yogurt and over-the-counter supplements. It may also improve gas symptoms by changing the bacterial flora that is responsible for producing some of the gas.
- If one experiences constipation, treatment of this disorder will be important to improve gas passage from the intestinal tract.
- As for the discomfort of gas related to failure to advance the gas through the gastrointestinal tract, gentle exercise is important to stimulate the intestines to pass the gas through. At times, abdominal massage may also improve symptoms.
Doctors may prescribe medicines to help reduce symptoms, especially for people with a motility disorder, such as IBS. If bacterial overgrowth in the small intestines is demonstrated by testing, antibiotics to reduce these bacteria may be prescribed.
Reducing swallowed air
For those who have chronic belching, doctors may suggest ways to reduce the amount of air swallowed. Recommendations are to avoid chewing gum and to avoid eating hard candy. Eating at a slow pace and checking with a dentist to make sure dentures fit properly should also help.
Although gas may be uncomfortable and embarrassing, it is not life-threatening. Understanding the causes, ways to reduce symptoms, and treatment will help most people find some relief.