Bloating, Belching and Flatulence

Digestive Health

By Dr Saravana.K

Bloating, burping and passing gas are natural and are usually caused by swallowed air or the breakdown of food through digestion. You may experience symptoms only occasionally but when symptoms interfere with your daily activities, there may be something wrong.

Bloating – gas buildup in your stomach and intestines

When gas doesn’t pass through belching or flatulence, it can build up in the stomach and intestines and lead to bloating. With bloating, you may also have abdominal pain that can vary from mild and dull to sharp and intense. Passing gas or having a bowel movement may relieve the pain.

Bloating may be related to: eating fatty foods, which can delay stomach emptying and make you feel uncomfortably full; drinking carbonated beverages or eating gassy foods; eating too quickly, drinking through a straw, chewing gum or sucking on candies, resulting in swallowing air; stress or anxiety; smoking; a gastrointestinal infection, blockage or disease; irritable bowel syndrome; or lactose intolerance in which the intestines aren’t able to digest and absorb certain components of food.

To reduce bloating, it may help to avoid or reduce the amount of gas-producing foods you eat. Many carbohydrates cause gas, and the following items are common culprits: beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, carbonated drinks, cauliflower; chewing gum; apples, peaches and pears; hard candy; lettuce; milk and milk products; onions; sugar alcohols found in sugar-free foods (sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol); and whole-grain foods.

Belching – getting rid of excess air

Belching or burping is your body’s way of expelling excess air from your stomach. It’s a normal reflex caused by swallowing air. You may swallow excess air if you eat or drink too fast, talk while you eat, chew gum or suck on hard candies, drink carbonated beverages, or smoke.

Gastroesophageal reflux disease can have the same effect. If stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, you may swallow repeatedly to clear the material. This can lead to swallowing more air and further belching.

Some people swallow air as a nervous habit – even when they’re not eating or drinking. In other cases, chronic belching may be related to inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis) or to an infection with Helicobacter pylori.

You can reduce belching if you: eat and drink slowly; avoid carbonated drinks and beer; skip the gum and hard candy; don’t smoke; check your dentures – poorly fitting dentures can cause you to swallow excess air when you eat and drink; and treat heartburn.

Flatulence – gas buildup in the colon

Intestinal gas is typically caused by the fermentation of undigested food, such as plant fibre, in the colon. Gas can also form when your digestive system doesn’t completely break down certain components in foods.

Other sources of intestinal gas may include: food residue in your colon; changes in intestinal bacteria due to antibiotics or other medications; poor absorption of carbohydrates, which can upset the balance of helpful bacteria in your digestive system; swallowed air that moves to your colon; or constipation, since the longer food waste remains in your colon, the more time it has to ferment.

Sometimes, gas indicates a digestive disorder, such as irritable bowel syndrome or lactose intolerance.

To prevent excessive gas, it may help to: avoid the foods that affect you most; eat fewer fatty foods; temporarily cut back on high-fibre foods; eat slowly; and exercise.

When to see your doctor

Consult your doctor if your symptoms don’t improve with changes in eating habits or you notice: diarrhoea; persistent or severe abdominal pain; bloody stools; unintended weight loss; or changes in the colour or frequency of stools. These symptoms could signal an underlying digestive condition.

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