Gas pains

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 31, 2015
StartSymptomsGas pains

While intestinal gas is a normal part of daily life, and it's natural to pass gas around ten to twenty times per day, sometimes gas can get trapped leading to uncomfortable and inconvenient gas pains.

Contents

Definition & Facts

There are two escapes for gas: through the intestines in the form of flatulence or through the mouth in the form of a belch. When both of these exits become blocked, gas becomes trapped in the digestive tract, leading to considerable discomfort and bloating. The pain can become so intense and sharp that gas pains can be confused with appendicitis.

Causes

Gas pains start when gas begins to build up in the intestines and the person is not able to allow it to pass. Some of the most common causes of gas pains include:

  • Intake of certain foods like beans, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, apples, peaches, cheese, yogurt as well as products containing large amounts of high fructose corn syrup.
  • Swallowing air. The chances of swallowing air are increased in those who smoke, chew gum, drink through a straw, wear dentures, or eat and/or drink quickly.
  • Food intolerance unique to individual people

In addition, factors such as constipation can make it difficult to pass gas which often sets in with those who have trouble digesting commonly used artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol, mannitol and xylitol.

When to see a doctor

While occasional gas pains are typically not a sign for concern and don't last more than a day or two, it's a good idea to speak with a physician if experiencing the following:

  • Sudden changes in symptoms
  • The arrival of new symptoms, especially in people over age 40
  • Additional symptoms accompanying the gas pains such as weight loss

Rarely it can be a warning sign for a more severe problem that must be addressed by a health professional. A few serious underlying conditions that can cause gas pain include: Crohn's disease, diabetes inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), ulcerative colitis, bacterial overgrowth in the small intestine, and colon cancer.

Treatment & Therapy

Anyone who has ever suffered a day with gas pains knows how disruptive it can can be. Fortunately, there are common treatment and therapy options for achieving relief. The best place to start is to reduce the intake of the types of foods mentioned above that are commonly known to cause the problem. When this doesn't work, activated charcoal has been shown to yield results. Unlike charcoal used during typical backyard barbecues, this type is specially treated to make it safe for consumption. Activated charcoal comes in both pill and liquid form and attaches to fluids in the intestines to help reduce gas and encourage the passage of stools. Other remedies proven to help relieve trapped gases include:

  • Milk of magnesia
  • products containing Simethicone
  • baking soda mixed with water
  • club soda mixed with water
  • Lying on the back and pushing the knees toward the chest as this encourages the gas to make its way through the intestines.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

The best time to eliminate gas pain is to stop it before it starts. Because drinking fluids during meals can debilitate stomach acids from properly digesting foods which leads to gas, drinking water prior to a meal instead can help reduce or prevent gas. Avoiding artificial sweeteners as well as habits such as smoking and drinking with a straw can also help prevent gas. Other preventive measures that can be taken include:

  • eating slowly
  • seeing a dentist if dentures are worn to ensure they fit properly and aren't allowing excessive air to be swallowed
  • decreasing intake of fruit juices
  • taking alpha-galactosidase before meals.