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Too Much Gas: How to Prevent & Treat

A buildup of gas can cause mild to intense pain. It’s usually caused by your diet, so taking a close look at what you eat can help when gas is an ongoing problem.
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Last updated February 10, 2022

Too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your too much gas and how to prevent & treat.

Too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your too much gas and how to prevent & treat.

Take too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

What is gas or a gassy stomach?

Gas is a build-up of air in the digestive tract. It develops when you swallow air, while you eat, drink, or chew gum, or when you feel anxious. It’s also produced in the intestines when your body breaks down the food you eat.

Gas (flatus) is found throughout the entire digestive tract, from the esophagus to the stomach to the intestines. Everyone experiences gas and releases it by belching (burping) or passing gas rectally (farting). Healthy people can pass gas up to 25 times a day. The buildup can lead to bloating and pain.

Flatus is mostly made up of nitrogen. It also contains oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane. It often contains sulfur, which causes the unpleasant odor.

Certain foods produce more gas than others, like beans and lactose (a natural sugar in milk). Gas can also be caused by an imbalance in the amount of good and bad bacteria in your gut or by other gastrointestinal (GI) diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).

What gas feels like

  • Sharp or cramping pains in the abdomen
  • Discomfort in your chest (from gas trapped in the stomach or esophagus)
  • Bloating or a feeling of fullness. In some cases, you may notice a temporary increase in abdominal size.

Foods that cause gas

Gas is from food being digested and metabolized (processed) by bacteria.

Lactose

Lactose intolerance can cause a lot of painful gas and other symptoms. People who are lactose intolerant don’t have enough of the enzyme lactase, which breaks down lactose in the gut so it can be absorbed. Instead, the lactose builds up in the colon and causes gas, bloating, diarrhea, and cramping.

You can manage your symptoms by avoiding dairy products, like milk, cheese, and ice cream. (You may want to figure out which dairy products cause your most severe symptoms.) Taking lactase supplements whenever you eat dairy may also help.

Pro Tip

As you get older, it is possible to stop producing the enzyme that breaks down lactose in dairy products—even if you never had a problem with milk before. It’s more common in people of African, Hispanic, and Asian populations. —Dr. Judy Kim

Too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your too much gas and how to prevent & treat.

Take too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

High FODMAP Diet

Certain foods increase gas, particularly those high in FODMAPs (fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols). These are carbohydrates that are poorly absorbed in the intestine.

Foods high in FODMAPs include beans, onions, garlic, brussels sprouts, and wheat. Fruits high in fructose like apples, pears, peaches, mangoes, and watermelon are also high FODMAP foods. Sorbitol, a common artificial sweetener, is also a FODMAP.

Medical conditions that cause gas

Irritable bowel syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome is a chronic GI disorder that causes abdominal pain and changes in bowel movements (diarrhea or constipation or both).

Almost all people with IBS complain of gas or bloating. But studies have shown that they do not actually produce more gas. Instead, people with IBS may have increased sensitivity to normal amounts of gas, or gas doesn’t move through the intestine in the right way, according to a study in Gastroenterology & Hepatology. But it still helps to reduce the amount of foods you eat that are known to cause gas.

There are many ways to treat IBS, including making changes to your diet and trying medications like fiber supplements, antidiarrheals or laxatives, and certain types of antidepressants.

SIBO

Small intestinal bowel overgrowth (SIBO) is when there’s an abnormal increase in the bacteria that live in your small intestine. Normally, much higher amounts of bacteria live in the large intestine than in the small intestine. When there’s an imbalance of bacteria in the small intestine, it can lead to too much gas and symptoms like bloating or flatulence.

SIBO can be diagnosed using a carbohydrate breath test. Treatment may include dietary changes, nutritional supplements, and antibiotics to control bacterial overgrowth.

Functional belching disorder

Functional belching disorder is a harmless disorder that causes frequent belching (similar to burping). It may be caused by swallowing too much air. People with functional belching disorder are encouraged to stop habits that cause this, such as drinking carbonated drinks, chewing gum, and smoking.

Constipation

Constipation is when you have difficulty having a bowel movement or have fewer than three bowel movements per week. It’s a very common problem and can cause gassiness and bloating. Treatment may include increasing fiber intake or taking laxatives.

Celiac disease

Celiac disease affects the small intestines and is caused by an immune reaction to eating gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. People with celiac disease may have increased gas and bloating because food may be poorly digested in the small intestine. Other symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, and vitamin deficiencies.

Dr. Rx

If you think your gassiness is severe, ask your doctor if you should be tested for small intestinal bowel overgrowth or celiac disease. —Dr. Kim

Gas in babies

Babies pass gas often during the day as a normal part of digesting food. But it can be painful and cause them to be fussy or cry. Certain foods can cause gas, like juices that the baby cannot absorb well.

If a baby is breastfed, the breast milk may contain dairy products that the baby cannot digest. If a baby is fed formula, the formula may have to be changed to another type. Simethicone drops (Gas-X) may help with any discomfort.

When to see a doctor

You should see a doctor if gas and symptoms such as cramps and bloating are becoming a problem and interfering with your daily life. A doctor may be able to help diagnose other underlying conditions, like celiac disease or small intestinal bowel overgrowth. A doctor can also help create a specific treatment plan to ease your symptoms. If your pain typically improves when you pass gas or take over-the-counter medications like Gas-X, you probably don’t need to see a doctor immediately.

You should see a doctor as soon as possible if you notice worsening diarrhea or constipation, blood in your stool, weight loss, or if you have a family history of GI cancers.

Go to the ER if you have severe gas pain and can’t pass gas or stool for several hours, which may be a sign of a blockage in the GI tract.

Pro Tip

Diet is a common reason for increased gassiness. Try to keep a food journal and identify which types of food may be causing symptoms. Dairy is a common trigger. —Dr. Kim

Too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

Take a quiz to find out what's causing your too much gas and how to prevent & treat.

Take too much gas and how to prevent & treat quiz

How to get rid of gas

There are many treatments that may help get rid of gas:

Diet

Making changes to your diet can help reduce gas and related symptoms like bloating and diarrhea.

  • Avoid foods high in FODMAPs.
  • Avoid dairy products that contain lactose like milk, cheese, and ice cream, or take an over-the-counter lactase enzyme (Lactaid) before eating these foods.
  • Avoid chewing gum and drinking carbonated beverages.
  • Consider seeing a dietician, who can help you identify specific trigger foods so you don’t have to avoid entire food groups.

Exercise

Exercising can help decrease gassiness. A study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that gentle physical exercise helped people get rid of gas and reduced bloating. Also, lying down can worsen gas build-up, so sitting up during the day may also help improve symptoms.

Medications

Some over-the-counter medications, which you can buy at a drugstore or online without a prescription, that may help include:

  • Probiotics. These can help bring back the right balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut, decreasing gas and bloating.
  • Simethicone. Found in products such as Gas-X and Mylanta, simethicone treats symptoms of gas like cramps, fullness, and bloating.
  • Peppermint oil. This natural remedy may help relieve gassiness and other digestive problems.

Fiber supplements. If you have irregular bowel movements, products like Citrucel or Metamucil may help with symptoms.

Share your story
Dr. Kim is a Gastroenterology Fellow at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University where she also completed her residency training in Internal Medicine. She received her medical degree at Washington University in St. Louis and earned her BA in Biology at Harvard College. Her specialty is Gastroenterology, with a research interest in gastric cancer and clinical outcomes.

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