Gas

Definition

Gas, or flatus, is produced when naturally occurring bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract begin to break down, or digest, food. When an excess of air builds up in the tract from swallowing air or a disorder that prevents digestion, it is released as gas. Gastrointestinal gases include methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and hydrogen.

Description

Gas production is an essential, normal function of the gastrointesinal tract, and most healthy individuals pass up to 1,200 cc (over 40 oz) of gas each day. However, when gas causes excessive pain and cramping (colic) then evaluation and treatment are appropriate.

Causes & symptoms

Gastrointestinal gas production can be increased by certain foods, illnesses, and some medications. Common causes of excessive gas include:

  • Gas-producing foods. Onions, beans, the cabbage family, and other fibrous foods can cause excessive gas or intestinal spasms in some individuals.
  • Gastrointestinal diseases and disorders. Increased flatulence is a defining symptom of irritable bowel syndrome, diverticulitis, lactose intolerance, malabsorption problems, dysbiosis (digestive problems), and other gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Air swallowing. Swallowing too much air while eating or chewing gum can introduce extra gas to the gastrointestinal tract.
  • Medications. Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications may cause gas as a side-effect.
  • Stress and food allergies can also cause gas.

Symptoms of excessive gas production include:

  • flatulence
  • belching, or burping
  • abdominal cramping, or colic
  • abdominal pain

Diagnosis

A thorough medical and dietary history and physical examination performed by a healthcare professional can usually identify the cause of gas pains resulting from changes to diet or medication. Gas problems triggered by gastrointestinal disease may be harder to diagnose, and will typically require additional medical testing such

Gas
COMMON REMEDIES FOR GAS
RemedyDescription
AcupressurePress inward at the point three finger widths below the navel known as Conception Vessel 6.
ExerciseExercise after meals and regularly to increase digestion and expel gas.
Herbal medicineAnise water, peppermint or chamomile tea, and fennel may relieve gas.
HomeopathyCarbo vegetabilis is used to relieve gas. Nux vomica is used to treat gas that accompanies constipation. Chamomilla is used to treat gas in infants.
DietIncrease fiber intake. Do not mix carbohydrates with proteins at the same meal. Avoid beans, peas, cheese, sodas, and alcohol. Do not overeat. Chew food well and eat slowly.
HydrotherapyAlternate a warm compress with a vigorous cold friction rub on the abdomen.
YogaThe Boat, Bow, Cobra, and Pigeon positions all encourage digestion and help relieve gas pain.

as colonoscopy, barium enema, or an upper and/or lower gastrointestinal (GI) series.

Treatment

For excessive gas caused by a particular food or beverage, adjustments to diet can relieve most symptoms. Gas caused by air swallowing can be alleviated by eating more slowly and avoiding gum chewing.

An herbalist or naturopathic healthcare professional may recommend a preparation of a carminative (gas reducing) herb such as valerian (Valeriana officinalis), or peppermint (Mentha piperita), which may be helpful in eliminating discomfort and gas-related bloating.

Homeopathic remedies for excessive intestinal gas include Carbo vegetabilis, Nux vomica, and Chamomilla. The prescription of a specific homeopathic remedy will depend on an individual's overall symptom picture, mood, and temperament, and should only be prescribed by a qualified homeopathic physician.

Hydrotherapy, acupressure, acupuncture, yoga, reflexology, and mild exercise can also help to relieve the pain and discomfort of excessive gas.

Allopathic treatment

Over-the-counter preparations of the enzyme alpha-D-galactosidase (Beano) can alleviate gas symptoms caused by ingestion of certain foods in some individuals. These preparations are typically available in liquid or tablet form. Other non-prescription medications such as Gas-X, Phazyme, and Mylanta contain the ingredient simethicone, which can reduce gas bubbles within the gastrointestinal tract.

Expected results

Mild excess gas is typically easy to treat, especially that triggered by dietary causes. Gas caused by gastrointestinal disease may be more difficult to manage, and successful treatment depends on the type and severity of the disorder.

KEY TERMS

Malabsorption problems
—A condition in which the intestinal tract is not able to absorb adequate nutrients from the food which passes through it (e.g., celiac disease, tropical sprue).

Prevention

Avoiding fermented foods, drastic increases in fiber intake, and excessive air intake can prevent gas in some individuals. Lactose intolerant individuals should avoid dairy products.

Resources

BOOKS

Hoffman, David. The Complete Illustrated Herbal. New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1999.

PERIODICALS

Wu, Olivia. "Miss the Bloat: How to Avoid Bloating." Vegetarian Times (June 2000): 80.

ORGANIZATIONS

The National Institute of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). Office of Communications and Public Liaison. NIDDK, National Institutes of Health, 31 Center Drive, MSC 2560, Bethesda, MD 20892-2560. http://www.niddk.nih.gov/index.htm.

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