Gas is air in the digestive tractthe large, muscular tube that extends from the mouth to the anus, where the movement of muscles, along with the release of hormones and enzymes, allows for the digestion of food. Gas leaves the body when people burp through the mouth or pass gas through the anus.
Everyone has gas. Burping and "passing gas" are normal. But because it is embarrassing, many people believe they pass gas too often or have too much gas. Having too much gas is rare.
Gas in the digestive tract is usually caused by swallowing air and by the breakdown of certain foods in the large intestine by bacteria.
Everyone swallows a small amount of air when eating and drinking. The amount of air swallowed increases when people
Burping allows some gas to leave the stomach. The remaining gas moves into the small intestine, where it is partially absorbed. A small amount travels into the large intestine for release through the anus.
The stomach and small intestine do not fully digest some carbohydratessugars, starches, and fiber found in many foods. This undigested food passes through the small intestine to the large intestine. Once there, undigested carbohydrates are broken down by bacteria in the large intestine, which release hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the process. Other types of bacteria in the large intestine take in hydrogen gas and create methane gas or hydrogen sulfide, the most common sulfur gas in flatus.
People who think they have too much gas can try to treat gas on their own before seeing a health care provider. Health care providers can provide advice about reducing gas and prescribe medications that may help.
- Reduce swallowed air. Swallowing less air may help reduce gas, especially for people who burp frequently. A health care provider may suggest eating more slowly, avoiding gum and hard candies, or checking with a dentist to make sure dentures fit correctly.
- Make dietary changes. People may be able to reduce gas by eating less of the foods that cause gas. However, many healthy foods may cause gas, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and milk products. The amount of gas caused by certain foods varies from person to person. Effective dietary changes depend on learning through trial and error which foods cause a person to have gas and how much of the offending foods one can handle. While fat does not cause gas, limiting high-fat foods can help reduce bloating and discomfort. Less fat in the diet helps the stomach empty faster, allowing gases to move more quickly into the small intestine.
- Take over-the-counter medications. Some over-the-counter medications can help reduce gas or the symptoms associated with gas:
- Alpha-galactosidase (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 and tablet form. Five drops are added per serving or one tablet is swallowed just before eating to break down the gas-producing sugars. Beano has no effect on gas caused by lactose or fiber.
- Simethicone (Gas-X, Mylanta Gas) can relieve bloating and abdominal pain or discomfort caused by gas.
- Lactase tablets or drops can help people with lactose intolerance digest milk and milk products to reduce gas. Lactase tablets are taken just before eating foods that contain lactose; lactase drops can be added to liquid milk products. Lactose-free and lactose-reduced milk and milk products are available at most grocery stores.
- Taking prescription medications. Health care providers may prescribe medications to help reduce symptoms, especially for people with small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
1. Everyone has gas. However, many people think they pass gas too often and that they have too much gas. Having too much gas is rare.
2. Gas in the digestive tract is usually caused by swallowing air and by the breakdown of certain foods in the large intestine by bacteria.
3. Most foods that contain carbohydrates can cause gas. In contrast, fats and proteins cause little gas.
4. Foods that produce gas in one person may not cause gas for someone else.
5. The most common symptoms of gas are burping, passing gas, bloating, and abdominal pain or discomfort.
6. Gas can be treated by reducing swallowed air, making dietary changes, or taking over-the-counter or prescription medications.
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
2 Information Way
Bethesda, MD 20892-3570
E-mail: National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Last updated February 15, 2013
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