INTESTINAL GAS

Intestinal gas includes a number of problems, such as burping, belching, swelling and bloating of the abdomen, and an increase in the passage of “wind” (flatus). These symptoms can be so disturbing that some individuals change their social life in order to avoid the embarrassment that comes with “too much gas.”

There are two ways in which gas can enter the digestive system. The most common way is by swallowing air. This occurs unconsciously during eating and drinking and is normal for everyone. Some people, however, swallow too much air, especially when anxious or under stress. It is common for some people to swallow air and then immediately burp or belch to relieve certain kinds of abdominal discomfort. People with acid indigestion often develop this habit, and they may even drink carbonated beverages such as soda water to increase the amount of air in their belches.

The other source of intestinal gas is the fermentation and digestion of food by bacteria that normally inhabit the large intestine. These bacteria break down nutrients, and one of the by-products is intestinal gas. Everyone produces some gas normally, and for the most part this is passed without problem, either during a bowel movement or discreetly throughout the day.

Some people are plagued by abdominal swelling and bloating as well as pain. Studies have shown that the amount of gas in the intestine is about the same in all individuals but some people become more sensitive to normal amounts of gas, and when the bowel is stretched by the gas, it becomes uncomfortable and results in a bloating sensation.

Since almost all gas entering the esophagus and stomach comes from what you swallow, the most important step in decreasing burping and belching is to learn how to swallow less air. You can begin by avoiding carbonated beverages, which contain excess amounts of gas. Eat meals slowly, and never gulp liquids. Avoid chewing gum and smoking, which can lead to increased amounts of swallowed air. If you suffer from acid indigestion, relieve it with antacids.

The passing of malodorous wind is very disquieting to some people. All of us have to pass a certain amount of flatus as part of our normal bodily functions. If, however, you tend to swallow air, the amount of flatus will increase. In addition, certain foods produce excessive amounts of gas and increase the undesirable odor. Therefore, after your physician has determined that no illnesses are affecting your bowel, a change of diet is often helpful.

You should try to eat smaller meals more frequently rather than one or two large meals a day. If you take liquids with your meals, they should be in smaller amounts, and you should drink them slowly rather than using them to “wash down” the food. You should also try to eat slowly. Avoid chewing gum or sucking candies, and stop smoking. If you have a lactose intolerance, a decrease in milk products will be helpful.

Some foods, such as beans, nuts, cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, radishes, turnips, apples and other raw fruits and vegetables, may lead to an increase in gas. However, rather than discontinuing these foods simultaneously, it might be necessary only to decrease or omit a few of them. Try one at a time and see the result. Many of these foods also supply important amounts of fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and stopping them altogether could lead to serious nutritional problems.

Medications such as antacids decrease the amount of gas. Simethicone, which is often combined with antacids, allows swallowed air to be belched, rather than having it pass through the intestine and leave the body as flatus. Some laxatives increase gas. No medication can completely cure excess flatus.

Although many medications, such as chlorophyllin, have been used to decrease the objectionable odor that is associated with excess flatus, none has proven to be successful in all people. Some people benefit from certain medications if changes in their diet and eating habits have not been beneficial. Chlorophyllin can be taken if you feel that the odor of your flatus and stool is so objectionable that it is interfering with your emotional and social life. Although chlorophyllin is not readily available, your physician can arrange to have your pharmacist order it for you. It will make your stool green, but it does not appear to have any other negative effects.

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