You always have some intestinal gas within your digestive tract. Gas in your digestive tract (the esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and large intestine) comes from two sources- swallowed air and the normal breakdown of certain undigested foods by harmless bacteria that are naturally present in the large intestine.
Gas and bloating symptoms can often be accompanied by an overlap with other signs and be difficult to identify as the cause of your symptoms. Patients should be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by the best specialist for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to exclude any underlying serious medical issues. Your gastroenterologist will likely need to evaluate to exclude other causes of your symptoms.
What Causes Bloating and Gas?
Air swallowing (aerophagia) is a common cause of gas in the stomach. Everyone swallows small amounts of air when eating and drinking. However, eating or drinking rapidly, talking while eating, chewing gum, smoking, or wearing loose dentures can cause some people to take in more air. Burping or belching is the way most swallowed air leaves the stomach. The remaining gas moves into the small intestine, where it is partially absorbed.
A small amount traveled into the large intestine for release through the rectum and expelled as flatulence. If you suffer from excess gas, either trapped in your intestines or passed as flatulence, it can become uncomfortable. Stuck gas can cause abdominal pain and bloat. In truth, everyone passes gas several times a day. Even stuck gas is a normal part of the digestive process.
Gases or trapped gas in the colon are also produced as a by-product when certain food materials are digested by naturally occurring bacteria in the large intestine or colon. These bacteria are responsible for digesting materials like complex carbohydrates (sugar, starches, and fiber found in many foods) and cellulose, which are generally not digested in the upper gastrointestinal tract.
The quantity and mixture of gases depend on the types of bacteria in the colon. Everyone has a unique assortment of bacteria from the time of birth. These gases include hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane. Trace gases, such as hydrogen sulfide, are responsible for the odor.
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Symptoms and Other Causes of Gas and Bloating
The most common symptoms of gas are belching, flatulence, bloating, and abdominal pain. The sensation of abdominal bloating can be a symptom of gas alone. Still, it can also be a symptom of several severe conditions such as cancer, diverticulitis, and many other causes of abdominal pain in general, which need to be taken seriously. Patients with these symptoms should be evaluated with a thorough consultation and examination by a GI doctor for an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan to exclude any underlying serious medical issues.
Patients with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) can begin to experience bloating, abdominal pain, and motility changes to specific food components. GI doctors agree that it may be due to the IBS condition itself, which can cause a difference in the gut microflora, potential small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), and visceral hypersensitivity.
Visceral hypersensitivity is the term doctors describe an experience of pain within the inner organs at a more intense level than normal. This means that there may be symptoms from a more intense than usual response to an average amount of gas.
Celiac disease (gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is a digestive and autoimmune disorder that damages the lining of the small intestine when foods with gluten are eaten. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms, including abdominal bloating and painful gas, diarrhea, and weight loss. Non-celiac gluten intolerance may also play a role in patients with IBS. There is recent evidence that specific food components can contribute to symptoms through malabsorption of carbohydrates, mainly lactose, and fructose.
Identifying components of the diet that may not be fully absorbed, such as lactose and fructose, in particular, may help minimize these symptoms. Further, identifying and treating patients with risk factors and symptoms of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) can also help with symptoms of bloating. Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is a disorder of excessive bacterial growth in the small intestine.
Diagnosing Gas and Bloating
One of our GI doctors will perform a physical exam and review your medical history and any recent dietary changes during your office visit. Since gas and bloating can sometimes be symptoms of a more serious condition, one of our endoscopy doctors or your local GI specialist may order laboratory tests, stool tests, imaging or endoscopy or colonoscopy, or another testing to exclude any other underlying condition. You should always have the diagnosis made by your doctor, mainly if your gas and bloating are persistent or accompanied by other symptoms, such as diarrhea, bloody stools, vomiting, constipation, heartburn, or unexplained weight loss can be symptoms of a serious condition including cancer.
Many gastrointestinal disorders exhibit similar symptoms. Once more serious causes are ruled out, your doctor may focus on your diet as this may be contributing to your symptoms. Fortunately, hydrogen breath tests are now available to uncover the source of some gastrointestinal disorders and causes of malabsorption. When certain sugars are not well absorbed, they may lead to symptoms such as gas or bloating. Hydrogen breath tests can be used to diagnose:
- Fructose intolerance;
- Lactose intolerance;
- Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO).
The above conditions result from your body’s inability to absorb a dietary carbohydrate or from a condition that promotes abnormal bacterial growth in your small intestine.
All three conditions listed above can cause gas and bloating, cramping, diarrhea, and even nausea or vomiting in some people. These symptoms aren’t by themselves dangerous, but they can make daily life unpleasant. Since the symptoms caused by these disorders are the same as those of many other medical conditions, diagnosis can be difficult. The hydrogen breath test helps our GI doctors pinpoint a more accurate diagnosis.
How to Get Rid of Gas and Bloating?
Treatment of gas and bloating depends on an accurate diagnosis being made by your gastroenterologist. Once a diagnosis is made, one of our gastroenterologists can help to create a treatment plan catered to your specific situation.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not definitive medical advice. Please consult a doctor about your specific condition. Only trained GI doctors like our specialists can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
As best-in-class NYC gastroenterologists, our doctors provide highly personalized and comprehensive care. For more information about our gastroenterology services or to schedule an appointment with one of our GI doctors, please contact our Manhattan Gastroenterology practice in Union Square/Chelsea, Upper East Side, or Midtown NYC offices.Dr. Shawn Khodadadian has either authored or reviewed and approved this content. Manhattan Gastroenterology Locations: Manhattan Gastroenterology (Upper East Side) 983 Park Ave Ste 1D, NY 10028
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