Gas, Bloating, and Burping
Gas (flatus), bloating, and burping 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 belly, can make you uncomfortable. Many people think that they pass gas too often or have too much gas. But it's 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 and sometimes noisy release of air from the stomach or esophagus through the mouth. Burping 3 or 4 times after eating a meal is normal. It's 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 that they enjoyed the meal.
All people pass gas, but some people produce more gas than others. It's normal to pass gas from 6 to 20 times a day. This may embarrass or annoy you. But a lot of intestinal gas usually isn't caused by a serious health condition.
Common causes of gas and bloating include:
- Swallowed air. If swallowed air isn't burped up, it passes through the digestive tract. Then it's released through the anus as flatus. Swallowing a lot of air may cause hiccups.
- Foods and drinks. The amount of gas that different foods cause varies from person to person.
- Lactose intolerance. A person who can't 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. It can cause bloating but generally doesn't increase gas.
- 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's common for women to have bloating right before their periods. That's 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 belly, 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 belly, increased flatus, poor appetite, and a change in bowel habits. Causes of dyspepsia can vary from minor to serious.
Check Your Symptoms
The medical assessment of symptoms is based on the body parts you have.
- If you are transgender or nonbinary, choose the sex that matches the body parts (such as ovaries, testes, prostate, breasts, penis, or vagina) you now have in the area where you are having symptoms.
- If your symptoms aren’t related to those organs, you can choose the gender you identify with.
- If you have some organs of both sexes, you may need to go through this triage tool twice (once as "male" and once as "female"). This will make sure that the tool asks the right questions for you.
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, such as blood thinners (anticoagulants), medicines that suppress the immune system like steroids or chemotherapy, herbal remedies, or 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.
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 nonprescription and prescription medicines and supplements can cause gas and bloating. A few examples are:
- Diarrhea medicines, such as Imodium, Kaopectate, and Lomotil.
- Opioid pain medicines.
- Fiber supplements and bulking agents, such as Citrucel, Fiberall, and Metamucil.
- Multivitamins and iron pills.
Symptoms of a heart attack may include:
- Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
- 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.
For men and women, the most common symptom is chest pain or pressure. But women are somewhat more likely than men to have other symptoms, like shortness of breath, nausea, and back or jaw pain.
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.
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.
Call 911 Now
Based on your answers, you need emergency care.
Call 911 or 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.
Sometimes people don't want to call 911. They may think that their symptoms aren't serious or that they can just get someone else to drive them. Or they might be concerned about the cost. But based on your answers, the safest and quickest way for you to get the care you need is to call 911 for medical transport to the hospital.
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.
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.
Gas, bloating, and burping are usually harmless and go away without treatment. If gas, bloating, or burping is making you uncomfortable, take these steps to help manage your symptoms.
- Drink more fluids, especially water.
- Avoid fizzy drinks and alcohol.
- 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's already in the intestines. Be careful when you take over-the-counter antacids. Many of these medicines have aspirin in them. Read the label to make sure that you aren't taking more than the recommended dose. Too much aspirin can be harmful.
- Food enzymes, such as Beano, help break down the sugars found in vegetables and grains. They can be added to foods that cause you to have gas.
Treating hiccups at home
Hiccups are usually harmless and go away without any treatment. But if hiccups are making you uncomfortable, here are some safe and easy things you can do at home to help manage your symptoms.
- Swallow a teaspoon of dry granulated sugar.
Don't use this remedy if you have diabetes.
- Hold your breath, and count slowly to 10.
- Breathe repeatedly into a paper bag for a short time.
- Quickly drink a glass of cold water.
When to call for help during self-care
Call a doctor if any of the following occur during self-care at home:
- Symptoms are not relieved by home treatment and medicine.
- Swallowing problems don't improve.
- Weight loss continues for no reason.
- Symptoms occur more often or are more severe.
Preparing For Your Appointment
You can help your doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared for your appointment.
Current as of: September 8, 2021
Author: Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine