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Gas, Bloating, and Burping

Topic Overview

Gas (flatus), burping, and bloating are all normal conditions. Gas is made in the stomach and intestines as your body breaks down food into energy. Gas and burping may sometimes be embarrassing. Bloating, which is a feeling of fullness in the abdomen, can make you uncomfortable. Although many people think that they pass gas too often or have too much gas, it is rare to have too much gas. Changing what you eat and drink can sometimes cut down on gas and relieve discomfort caused by gas.

Belching or burping (eructation) is the voluntary or involuntary, sometimes noisy release of air from the stomach or esophagus through the mouth. Burping 3 or 4 times after eating a meal is normal and is usually caused by swallowing air. Other causes of burping include nervous habits or other medical conditions, such as an ulcer or a gallbladder problem. In some cultures, a person may belch loudly after eating to show appreciation for the meal.

All people pass gas, but some people produce more gas than others. It is normal to pass gas from 6 to 20 times a day. Although this may embarrass or annoy you, excess intestinal gas usually is not caused by a serious health condition.

Common causes of gas and bloating include:

  • Swallowed air. If swallowed air is not burped up, it passes through the digestive tract and is released through the anus as flatus. Excessive air swallowing may cause hiccups.
  • Foods and beverages. The amount of gas that different foods cause varies from person to person.
  • Lactose intolerance. A person who cannot easily digest lactose, a type of natural sugar found in milk and dairy products can have both gas and bloating as well as other symptoms.
  • Constipation. This can cause bloating but generally does not increase gas. For more information, see the topic Constipation, Age 11 and Younger or Constipation, Age 12 and Older.
  • Medicines or nutritional supplements. Both prescription and nonprescription medicines, as well as dietary supplements, can cause bloating and gas as side effects.
  • A medical condition, such as a bowel obstruction or Crohn's disease.
  • Changes in hormone levels. It is common for women to have bloating right before their periods, because their bodies retain fluid.

Dyspepsia is a medical term that is used to describe a vague feeling of fullness, gnawing, or burning in the chest or upper abdomen, especially after eating. A person may describe this feeling as "gas." Other symptoms may occur at the same time, such as belching, rumbling noises in the abdomen, increased flatus, poor appetite, and a change in bowel habits. Causes of dyspepsia can vary from minor to serious.

Occasionally, a person may dismiss serious symptoms, such as symptoms of a heart attack, as "just gas or indigestion."

Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.

Check Your Symptoms

Do you have a problem with gas, bloating, or burping?
You may think of these symptoms as indigestion.
Yes
Gas, bloating, or burping problem
No
Gas, bloating, or burping problem
How old are you?
Less than 12 years
Less than 12 years
12 years or older
12 years or older
Are you male or female?
Male
Male
Female
Female
Do you have moderate or severe belly pain?
This is not the cramping type of pain you have with diarrhea.
Yes
Abdominal pain
No
Abdominal pain
Could you be having symptoms of a heart attack?
If you're having a heart attack, there are several areas where you may feel pain or other symptoms.
Yes
Symptoms of heart attack
No
Symptoms of heart attack
Are you having trouble swallowing?
Yes
Trouble swallowing
No
Trouble swallowing
Can you swallow food or fluids at all?
Yes
Able to swallow food or fluids
No
Unable to swallow food or fluids
Do you have hiccups?
Yes
Hiccups
No
Hiccups
Have you had hiccups for more than 2 days?
Yes
Hiccups for more than 2 days
No
Hiccups for more than 2 days
Do hiccups occur often and disrupt your usual activities?
Yes
Hiccups occur often and disrupt activity
No
Hiccups occur often and disrupt activity
Do you think that a medicine could be causing the symptoms?
Think about whether the symptoms started after you began taking a new medicine or a higher dose of a medicine.
Yes
Medicine may be causing symptoms
No
Medicine may be causing symptoms
Have you tried home treatment for more than 1 week?
Yes
Tried home treatment for more than 1 week
No
Tried home treatment for more than 1 week
In the past few weeks, have you been losing weight without trying?
Yes
Has been losing weight without trying
No
Has been losing weight without trying
Have you felt less hungry than usual for more than 2 weeks?
Yes
Poor appetite for more than 2 weeks
No
Poor appetite for more than 2 weeks

Many nonprescription and prescription medicines and supplements can cause gas and bloating. A few examples are:

  • Aspirin.
  • Antacids.
  • Diarrhea medicines, such as Imodium, Kaopectate, and Lomotil.
  • Narcotic pain medicines.
  • Fiber supplements and bulking agents, such as Citrucel, Fiberall, and Metamucil.
  • Multivitamins and iron pills.

Make an Appointment

Based on your answers, the problem may not improve without medical care.

  • Make an appointment to see your doctor in the next 1 to 2 weeks.
  • If appropriate, try home treatment while you are waiting for the appointment.
  • If symptoms get worse or you have any concerns, call your doctor. You may need care sooner.

Seek Care Now

Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.

  • Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care in the next hour.
  • You do not need to call an ambulance unless:
    • You cannot travel safely either by driving yourself or by having someone else drive you.
    • You are in an area where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Abdominal Pain, Age 12 and Older

Seek Care Today

Based on your answers, you may need care soon. The problem probably will not get better without medical care.

  • Call your doctor today to discuss the symptoms and arrange for care.
  • If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have one, seek care today.
  • If it is evening, watch the symptoms and seek care in the morning.
  • If the symptoms get worse, seek care sooner.

Try Home Treatment

You have answered all the questions. Based on your answers, you may be able to take care of this problem at home.

  • Try home treatment to relieve the symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if symptoms get worse or you have any concerns (for example, if symptoms are not getting better as you would expect). You may need care sooner.

Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind of care you may need. These include:

  • Your age. Babies and older adults tend to get sicker quicker.
  • Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care sooner.
  • Medicines you take. Certain medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them worse.
  • Recent health events, such as surgery or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them more serious.
  • Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug use, sexual history, and travel.
Abdominal Pain, Age 11 and Younger

Call 911 Now

Based on your answers, you need emergency care.

Call911or other emergency services now.

After you call 911 , the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength (325 mg) or 2 to 4 low-dose (81 mg) aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Symptoms of a heart attack may include:

  • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
  • Sweating.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both shoulders or arms.
  • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
  • A fast or irregular heartbeat.

The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you're having a heart attack. Chest pain or pressure is the most common symptom, but some people, especially women, may not notice it as much as other symptoms. You may not have chest pain at all but instead have shortness of breath, nausea, numbness, tingling, or a strange feeling in your chest or other areas.

Home treatment for gas and bloating includes things like:

  • Avoiding foods and drinks that make symptoms worse. (Some examples are chocolate, peppermint, alcohol, and, in some cases, spicy foods or acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits.)
  • Taking antacids.
  • Not smoking.
  • Not eating right before bedtime.

Home Treatment

Gas, bloating, and burping

Gas, bloating, and burping are usually harmless and go away without any treatment. If gas, bloating, or burping is making you uncomfortable, take the following steps to help manage your symptoms:

  • Increase the amount of fluid you drink, especially water. Avoid carbonated drinks and alcoholic beverages.
  • Take a medicine that you can buy without a prescription. Be sure to follow the instructions on the label.
    • Activated charcoal tablets, such as CharcoCaps, may decrease odor from gas. Charcoal is usually taken after meals or at the first sign of gas discomfort.
    • Antacids, such as Maalox Anti-Gas and Mylanta Gas, allow gas to be belched away more easily. But these medicines often have no effect on gas that is already in the intestines.
    • Food enzymes, such as Beano, which help break down the sugars found in vegetables and grains, can be added to foods that cause you to have gas.

Hiccups

Hiccups are usually harmless and go away without any treatment. But if hiccups are making you uncomfortable, the following safe and easy home remedies may help you manage your symptoms.

  • Swallow a teaspoon of dry granulated sugar. Do not use this remedy if you have been diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Hold your breath, and count slowly to 10.
  • Breathe repeatedly into a paper bag for a limited period of time.
  • Quickly drink a glass of cold water.

Symptoms to watch for during home treatment

Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:

  • Hiccups don't go away as expected or they return frequently.
  • Swallowing problems are not improving.
  • You continue to lose weight for no reason.
  • Symptoms become more severe or frequent.

Prevention

You may be able to prevent gas, bloating, burping, and hiccups.

  • Avoid foods that cause gas, such as beans, broccoli, cabbage, and bran. The amount of gas that different foods cause varies from person to person.
  • Take steps to avoid swallowing air:
    • Eat slowly. Avoid gulping food or beverages. When you rush through meals or eat on the run, you are more likely to swallow air.
    • Chew your food thoroughly before you swallow.
    • Avoid talking while you chew.
    • Avoid drinking through a straw.
    • Avoid chewing gum or eating hard candy.
    • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products.
    • Do not drink alcohol.
    • Avoid sudden changes in stomach temperature, such as drinking a hot beverage and then a cold beverage.
    • If you wear dentures, check with a dentist to make sure they fit properly.
    • Keep calm. Tension and anxiety can cause you to swallow air.
  • Keep a food diary if you suspect that gas is caused by certain foods. Write down what you eat or drink and when symptoms occur to help you identify foods or drinks that may cause gas. After these problem foods are identified, avoid or limit them to reduce or prevent symptoms.
    • Talk with your doctor or a dietitian about ways to maintain a balanced diet if you want to permanently eliminate certain foods or drinks. For more information, see the topic Healthy Eating.
    • If you suspect that milk or other dairy products are causing your symptoms, try limiting or eliminating these foods. For more information, see the topic Lactose Intolerance.
    • If you cook with dry beans, soak them in water overnight, then pour off the water and cook the soaked beans in fresh water. This may reduce the amount of natural sugars in the beans after the cooling process and help prevent gas and bloating.
  • Do not overeat. Large meals can make you feel bloated. Try eating 6 small meals a day rather than 3 large ones.
  • Avoid constipation, which is a common cause of bloating. For more information, see the topic Constipation, Age 12 and Older or Constipation, Age 11 and Younger.
  • Avoid laxatives.
  • Use an antigas product that you can buy without a prescription.
    • Food enzymes, such as Beano, which help break down the sugars found in vegetables and grains, can be added to foods that cause you to have gas.
    • If you have lactose intolerance, lactase enzyme supplements, such as Dairy Ease and Lactaid, can be taken with dairy products to help break down lactose in food.
    • Peppermint and other herbs (carminatives) that soothe the digestive tract may permit belching and decrease bloating after large meals.
  • Exercise regularly.

Preparing For Your Appointment

To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.

You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the following questions:

  • What is your main symptom? How long have you had this symptom?
  • How long do symptoms last when they occur?
  • What do you think is causing your symptoms?
  • Have you tried any home treatment? If so, what measures have you tried? Have they helped?
  • Have you been treated for this problem in the past? What was the treatment? Did it help?
  • Do you think your symptoms are caused by what or how you eat?
    • Do symptoms seem to begin after you have certain foods or drinks? If so, which ones?
    • Do you chew gum, eat rapidly, drink carbonated beverages, or drink through a straw?
  • Do you wear dentures? Do they fit properly?
  • Do you smoke or use other tobacco products?
  • Do you drink alcohol? If so, how much?
  • Do any other symptoms occur along with burping, gas, or bloating, such as a change in your bowel habits, heartburn, vomiting, or abdominal pain?
  • Have you had any recent illness or changes in your health?
  • Have you lost or gained more than a few pounds in the past month?
  • Did you drink lake or stream water or untreated well water?
  • Have you recently visited a foreign country or taken a ship cruise?
  • Does anyone in your family have celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, or intolerance to lactose or other food products?
  • Do you have any health risks?

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised July 5, 2013

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

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