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Ever get so gassy that you start to feel like your stomach is filled with helium? For many of us, this feeling is more common than we’d like. Some gas is completely normal, like burping, bloating, and flatulence here and there. But if the gas is accompanied by a lot of discomfort and pain (or is far more excessive than usual), something may be going on in your body that needs to be addressed.
Gassiness can be brought on for a lot of different reasons—the food you eat, underlying medical conditions, and more, so we've consulted with a few experts to help you understand more about the scenarios that can lead you to have more gas than usual, some tips for dealing with this gas, and how to know when it’s time to see a doctor.
The Most Common Culprits of Excessive Gas
You’re Eating Certain Gas-Producing Foods
It’s not uncommon to feel gassy after eating certain foods, or even after eating a big meal. You might experience more gas than usual if you eat a lot of foods that are high in fermentable carbohydrates, which includes beans, bread, certain fruits and veggies, milk, and sugary cereals.
“We know that if you eat a big bowl of chili—beans are rich in fermentable carbs—you likely will feel a bit more gassy,” says registered dietitian Kate Scarlata, who specializes in digestive health. Keep in mind that just because some foods lead to more gassiness than others doesn’t mean you need to avoid them altogether. Scarlata points out that a bit of gas in the gut is normal and not necessarily a sign of poor health.
Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, and other cruciferous vegetables can leave you more gassy than usual, as well (this includes any green smoothies that might contain these ingredients). You’ll want to keep an eye on what you sip, too—soda and other carbonated drinks can make you feel gassy, says Melanie Klesse, a registered dietitian at Epicured. Chewing gum can leave you gassy as well.
You've Swallowed Air
Sometimes gas is brought about for a reason as simple as swallowing air, which is more common than you may realize. Swallowing air can happen for a lot of different reasons including eating too quickly, talking while eating, drinking through a straw, or chewing gum.
“There are many reasons why people may feel gassy, but fundamentally gassiness occurs either due to swallowed air or because gas is produced as a byproduct of the food digestion process,” Klesse says.
You Have Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Some medical conditions, like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), celiac disease, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and small intestinal Crohn's disease make you more likely to experience excess gas. If you’re dealing with one of these conditions, your gas will probably be accompanied by pain and discomfort.
“For some people with small intestinal Crohn's disease or untreated celiac disease, an inflamed gut can lead to maldigestion and poor absorption of some foods,” Scarlata says. “Malabsorbed foods arrive in the colon, which the gut microbes readily ferment, creating excess gas.”
Meanwhile, in conditions like irritable bowel syndrome, “certain naturally occurring carbohydrates known as FODMAPs can be more difficult for these patients to digest and when these FODMAP foods pass into the colon they can ferment and create gas,” Klesse says.
You’re Lactose Intolerant
Excess gas could be a sign you’re lactose intolerant, which is a condition where the body has trouble digesting a sugar found in milk and dairy products called lactose. Often, problems digesting lactose lead to to gas, bloating, diarrhea, and discomfort.
You Have a Condition Called Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO)
Your gut is home to a large amount of bacteria (both good and bad) that help your body break down food, respond to infection, and carry out other important tasks. But sometimes, the balance between good and bad bacteria in your gut gets out of whack, contributing to gas, bloating, and changes to your bowel habits.
“This imbalance of bacteria can happen in the large intestine, where the majority of our bacteria live, or in the small intestine, resulting in an overgrowth of bacteria called small intestinal bacterial overgrowth or SIBO,” says Kelsey Kinney, a registered dietitian who specializes in digestive health.
When to See a Doctor
A bit of gas is completely normal and expected, and is even a sign of a healthy gut. But it’s time to see a doctor if you’re also experiencing pain and discomfort. A physician can perform a variety of tests to help get to the root of the problem.
If the gas is being caused by a problem related to your gut bacteria, for example, there are tests that can help identify good and bad bacteria in your microbiome and help your healthcare practitioner determine the appropriate next steps in balancing your gut bacteria, Kinney says.
Any gas in combination with unexplained weight loss, or abrupt change in bowel habits like increased constipation or diarrhea should all be signs to see your doctor.
“Working with a doctor to get a diagnosis and then a dietitian to help create a personalized diet helps to ensure that you don’t end up unnecessarily restricting foods or food groups,” Klesse says. “In addition, any gas in combination with unexplained weight loss, or abrupt change in bowel habits like increased constipation or diarrhea should all be signs to see your doctor.”
How to Relieve Gassiness
Don’t despair if you’ve been feeling extra gassy recently, there are plenty of ways you may be able to find relief. Here are a few recommendations from Scarlata and Klesse for reducing a gassy gut:
- Chew your food more thoroughly.
- Eat smaller meals.
- Take a walk, do yoga, or try another form of gentle exercise, which can help move trapped gas.
- Sip peppermint tea.
- Limit your intake of carbonated drinks.
- Try taking simethicone, an over the counter medication that’s sometimes helpful.
- Reduce (but don’t eliminate) some carbohydrates that often lead to gassiness. This includes foods like wheat, onion, garlic, Brussels sprouts, and apples.
- If you have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), talk to your doctor to see if a low-FODMAP diet may be a good idea.
- Keep a diary to track food intake and the symptoms you’re experiencing, which may help your doctor or dietitian identify which foods are problematic for you.
As always, consult your physician before making any changes to your diet or starting new medication, including if it's to treat gassiness.