Gas production in the gastrointestinal tract is a normal process related to digestion of food. If it is excessive, it can be an embarrassing problem when it causes frequent and uncontrollable belching (burping) and flatulence. A gas build up in the bowels may cause visible abdominal bloating and trigger intestinal cramps which can be painful.
Some causes of increased gas in the bowels may be due to dietary or lifestyle factors while at other times it may be related to medical conditions, particularly those that affect the gastrointestinal tract.
Healthy Digestion and Gut Gas
Digestion of food involves both mechanical and chemical processes.
Muscle contractions in the gastrointestinal tract churns and breaks down food while the digestive enzymes cause a chemical reaction when exposed to food. This breaks down the food into simple chemicals that can be easily absorbed by the body. In the latter parts of the bowels, normal intestinal flora (‘good bowel bacteria) also help with food break down and consume any nutrients left in the waste. Both the chemical reaction and the action of bacteria cause gas production.
The body releases this gas in the gut by passing it out as a belch (burp) or flatus (common term ~ fart). This is normal but at times it can become excessive.
Abdominal bloating, especially after eating, is due to gas within the gastrointestinal tract. Do not always assume that your bloated tummy is due to gas within the gut. Other serious causes of abdominal bloating could be due to fluid (‘water’) or blood within the abdominal cavity. This must be attended to immediately.
With gas bloating, the swollen abdomen changes with time. It is worse after eating and eases as digestion progresses and when gas is passed out as a burp or flatus.
Causes of Excessive Gas
Excessive belching and flatulence are only symptoms of increased gas production within the gastrointestinal tract.
Identifying and treating the cause of gas is the only way to reduce excessive belching and flatulence. Take note of any other signs and symptoms that accompany your gas bloating, belching and flatulence. These other symptoms may include watery or explosive diarrhoea, constipation, stomach cramps, heartburn and nausea or vomiting. This will help your doctor identify the cause and help him/her to decide upon the appropriate tests to make a conclusive diagnosis.
Common causes that are not related to any disease include :
- Air swallowing when eating or drinking. This also occurs in smokers and if you have nasal congestion and breathe through your mouth. Constantly chewing gum will also contribute towards air swallowing.
- Carbonated drinks.
- Eating ‘gassy’ foods like beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, garlic, milk and dairy products (especially if you are lactose intolerant), onions, pasta and processed foods.
Other causes that may need medical treatment include :
- Constipation or diarrhoea.
- Diverticulitis or diverticulosis.
- Food intolerance like gluten or lactose intolerance.
- Food poisoning.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease.
- Gall stones and gallbladder disease.
- H. pylori infection of the stomach which may cause a stomach ulcer.
- Hiatus hernia.
- Irritable bowel syndrome (spastic colon).
- Malabsorption syndrome.
- Pancreatic disorders including acute pancreatitis.
- Short bowel syndrome.
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth.
- Ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
There are a number of other conditions that may contribute to gas bloating within the bowels.
Another common cause is when the population of the normal intestinal flora (‘good bowel bacteria’) increases drastically or when ‘bad bacteria’ settles in the bowels. This will not only cause bloating with increased flatulence but will also upset the normal bowel movements. A good probiotic will assist with restoring the ‘good bowel bacteria’.