While sometimes uncomfortable, gas or gas pains are rarely thought of as a pressing medical condition; and in most cases, gas is a normal part of the digestive process and not serious. Excessive gas or gas that includes some degree of pain when it occurs may be a symptom of an underlying medical condition. Understanding the difference can make it easier to know when to see a doctor.
Pain Associated with Gas
Gas typically builds up during the digestion process. It can be caused by constipation or an inability to smoothly complete the digestive process. Gas may also be caused by some foods, such as beans and lentils, cabbage, broccoli, and other “rough” vegetables, and, in some cases, lactose, the natural sugar in milk.
Gas pain may be experienced as:
When Gas Pain Requires Attention
Gas pain is sometimes mistaken for appendicitis or other serious condition. However, gas pain may require attention if abdominal pain becomes progressively worse or remains constant in the same area or if it’s coupled with blood stools, chest pain, or weight loss.
Gas and gas pains can be caused by a number of different factors, from fruits and vegetables to beans and legumes. Fiber supplements can also cause gas and result in mild discomfort. Gas, and the pains associated with it, can also be caused by an underlying health condition such as diabetes, diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, or ulcerative colitis.
Swallowing air can also result in gas, and this usually occurs when you eat and drink, chew gum, eat too fast, suck on candy, or drink through a straw. This air travels down to your lower digestive tract, causing gas and gas pains.
Artificial sweeteners and additives like sorbitol, xylitol, and mannitol found in sugar-free foods, candy and gum can also lead to gas. Eating foods like dairy can cause gas in people with lactose intolerance.
Over-the-counter medications usually control most instances of gas pain or discomfort. Lactase supplements can minimize lactose intolerance and related gas pain. Charcoal tablets consumed before a meal and a reduction in fiber intake and the use of fiber supplements may also provide relief.
Intestinal gas is produced in humans about 10-20 times per day. It’s usually not serious if related discomfort subsides fairly quickly and isn’t paired with symptoms that may be a sign of an underlying medical condition. In many cases, gas pains can be reduced by making dietary and lifestyle changes. If severe, persistent abdominal pains are experienced with gas, seek medical attention.
Knowing what triggers gas can help you more easily avoid gas, gas pains and the accompanying embarrassment it usually causes. Gas pain has different causes for each person, so only you will know what triggers your own gas and gas pains. Keeping a journal and writing down what you eat and what happens afterwards can help you keep track of foods to avoid and what’s okay to eat.
Some tips to help you avoid common gas triggers include avoiding chewing gum (since every time you chew you swallow air), quitting smoking, eating healthier foods (low in fat), and eating slower. Avoiding fruit juices, soda, mineral water, and champagne – or anything that bubbles – can also help you avoid gas. Non-carbonated drinks are recommended.
Certain pills can also help with gas relief and acid indigestion, such as Beano, Gas-X, Alka-Seltzer, or Tums. You can also try Imodium or MiraLax, as both treat multiple symptoms associated with gas.