Why am I so gassy, and what can I do about it?
Flatulence. Burp. Toot. Or whatever you may call it, we all pass gas. At times it may be unpleasant to you or to those around you, but it’s a normal part of the digestion process.
Our bodies produce gas for a number of reasons. Swallowing too much air will cause us to belch. We’ll pass gas when gas builds up in our intestines as bacteria breaks down the food we eat, food builds up in the colon, there’s bacterial overgrowth in the intestine, due to a gluten or lactose intolerance, or because of celiac disease.
Being gassy from time to time is common, but if it becomes excessive, it may be a symptom of a medical issue.
Gassiness can be related to a mechanical disturbance, obstruction or blockage in the stomach, small intestine or large intestine. The blockage could be caused by inflammation surrounding the colon called diverticulitis, hernias, a cancer growth or a scar that may have formed after surgery. A blockage will prevent gas from going beyond the site of the blockage, causing the stomach or bowel to become bloated.
In cases where there’s no stomach or bowel blockage, gassiness may be caused by diet, constipation, a dietary intolerance, certain medications such as narcotics or irritable bowel syndrome.
Depending on the cause of gassiness, there may be some things you can try to improve your symptoms.
- Keep track of when you experience excessive gassiness. Is it after a meal?
- Log what you’re eating and drinking for two to three months. Foods like beans, onions, broccoli, dairy and carbonated drinks can cause gas. Try eliminating one thing at a time to see if it makes a difference.
- If you suspect you have a dietary intolerance, consider a low FODMAP diet on which you avoid wheat, diary, certain fruits and vegetables and some low-calorie sweeteners.
- Stay hydrated. Drink at least eight glasses of water a day.
- Treat constipation with an over-the-counter laxative or fiber supplement. Dietary changes like eating more fiber can help.
If the gas is accompanied by bleeding, weight loss or persistent pain, seek medical attention. Your symptom/food diary, family history and tests such as abdominal imaging can help your doctor determine the cause of the gassiness and develop a treatment plan. In the case of an obstruction, surgery may be required to relieve the blockage.
Gokul Bala is a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.