Gas in the digestive tract originates from different sources. It also depends on whether it is the gas in the upper gut and gas in the lower parts lie the bowels. Gas in the upper part of the tract – esophagus, stomach or first part of the small intestine – is usually from swallowed air. In contrast gas in the lower parts like the bowel is from the breakdown of food and bacteria within the bowels.
Most of the time we do not notice the gas in the gut. It is only when we expel this gas through the mouth or anus, when there is excessive gas, an uncharacteristic odor of this gas or trapped gas that it becomes obvious. Gas in the gut is a normal phenomenon but when it poses a disruption to life or causes discomfort then it needs to be investigated further.
While excessive gas may not seem like a serious symptom, it should nevertheless be investigated by a medical professional. Sometimes excessive gas can be an early symptom of serious diseases, before other more obvious signs and symptoms arise. Diagnostic investigations like an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy may be necessary to identify the exact cause.
Causes of Stomach Gas
The stomach is a specific organ of the gut, lying between the esophagus and small intestine, which collectively constitute the upper gut (digestive tract). However, it is not uncommon for many people to refer to the abdomen as the stomach. This is incorrect and can be misleading. Therefore the causes of gas in the upper digestive tract should be considered.
Read more on excessive gas.
Swallowing air occurs all the time and it is this gas that constitutes the majority of the gas in the upper gut. Although swallowing of air (aerophagia) is a normal phenomenon, there are times where it may be excessive. This is usually due to eating or drinking too quickly, mouth breathing due to a congested nose, gum chewing, cigarette smoking and talking while eating. People with poorly fitting dentures may also experience excessive air swallowing.
Carbonated beverages and other gassy drinks can also contribute to excessive gas build up in the upper gut. This includes sodas, beer and other fizzy drinks. The gas accumulation is further exacerbated by drinking these carbonated beverages too fast which usually results in excessive air swallowing along with the gas contributed by these beverages.
The process of chemical digestion may also result in gas production. This gas is a by product. It is a result of food reacting with stomach acid and digestive enzymes in order to break down food into simpler substances (small nutrients) which can be easily absorbed. In the process of the chemical reactions that ensure, various gases may be released into the gut.
Certain foods are gassy foods because it tends to release more gas than other foods when it is digested. Beans, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are some of the vegetables that are known for its higher gas content. Prunes and peaches are some of the fruits that may have a similar effect. Boiled eggs in large quantities may also cause a person to become gassy.
Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori) is one of the few bacteria that can reside in the stomach despite its acidic environment. It causes gastritis and peptic ulcers. H.pylori may also cause the release of gas in the stomach but usually this is a small quantity. Some bacteria can also cause an acute infection of the stomach and neighboring parts of the digestive tract, as is the case in gastroenteritis. This may cause excessive belching as more gas is expelled from the gut.
Delayed gastric emptying means that food stays longer in the stomach that it normally would and this can lead to fermentation. Certain bacteria that do not normally thrive in the stomach may contribute to the fermentation. This problem with stomach emptying may be seen with narrowing of a portion of the stomach, growths, muscle and nerve problems.
Intolerance to Foods
Certain food intolerance syndromes can also contribute to excessive gas in the gut. This is where the body digest certain foods. A similar syndrome may arise with malabsorption of nutrients. As a result these foods remain in the gut where it causes a host of disturbances. It may lead to an increase in gas production by gut bacteria but this usually affects the lower gut.
Antacids are substances used to neutralize the stomach acid. It helps with relieving the symptoms of conditions like acid reflux, gastritis and peptic ulcers. However, antacids can contribute to excessive stomach gas. Some antacids are in effervescent form and this will increase gas in the stomach. In addition, the chemical reactions to neutralize the stomach acid may also produce gas as a by product.
Excessive gas in the upper digestive tract may also be associated with the following conditions:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Read more on stomach bloating.
Tips to Remedy Stomach Gas
A few simple dietary and lifestyle measures may help to remedy a build up of stomach gas. However, it is important to note that the underlying condition that causes excessive stomach gas ma need to be medically treated.
- Eat smaller meals and eat slowly. Avoid three large meals and instead switch to five or six smaller meals throughout the day. Take the time to eat a meal without rushing and without any distractions.
- Avoid gassy foods and fizzy drinks. Small amounts of these foods and drinks may not be a problem but regular consumption and large quantities may increase stomach gas.
- Antacids should be used in moderation and not continued for long periods of time. Where necessary, a medical professional may instead prescribe acid-suppressing drugs.
- Make dietary alterations based on individual tolerances. If certain foods or drinks tend to increase gas then it should be minimized or avoided altogether.
- Try an elimination diet where several different foods are stopped. Gradually reintroduce these foods one at a time and take note of any symptoms that may arise.