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The Digestive System and Gas

What Causes Gas? We produce gas in two ways: when we swallow air, and when the bacteria in the large intestine go to work helping to ...

What Causes Gas?

We produce gas in two ways: when we swallow air, and when the bacteria in the large intestine go to work helping to digest the food we eat.
Carbohydrates are especially troublesome. Humans cannot digest certain carbohydrates in the small intestine because we may not have (or not have enough of) the enzymes that can aid in their digestion. This food moves in the undigested state from the small intestine to the large intestine; it is here that the bacteria go to work, producing the gases hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane which are then expelled from the body.
Not everybody will suffer from gas from eating the same foods.
We also swallow a certain amount of air when we eat and drink. This contributes to the production of gas. We usually release swallowed air by burping it out. Whatever isn't released by burping goes into the small or large intestine, where it is eventually released as flatulence.

Which Foods Are Most Likely to Produce Gas?

You are most likely to experience gas by eating carbohydrates, which are found in such foods as beans, vegetables (especially broccoli, cabbage, and onions), fruits, dairy products, whole grain foods, soft drinks, and fruit drinks.

What Are the Symptoms of Gas?

In addition to burping and flatulence, people who have gas may feel bloated. They may also have pain in the abdomen, which they may mistake for another disease such as a heart attack or appendicitis.

Could Gas Be a Sign of a Medical Problem?

Yes. Chronic (long-lasting) belching may be a sign of disease in the upper digestive tract, such as ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
Bloating may be caused by a variety of diseases, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colon cancer, and Crohn's disease or by a hernia.

How Are Gas-Related Illnesses Diagnosed?

Since diet is the main cause of gas, your doctor will want to know what you eat and what symptoms you are having. He or she may ask you to keep a record of what you eat and drink to help identify offending foods. You may also need to keep track of how many times a day you pass gas.
You may have to eliminate certain foods from your diet. For example, if lactose intolerance (lactose is a type of sugar found in milk products) is suspected of causing the gas, you will probably have to limit your consumption of dairy products. Other tests, such as the hydrogen breath test may also be done to help diagnose lactose intolerance.

If bloating is a problem, the doctor may examine your abdomen for the sound of fluid movement to rule out ascites (buildup of fluid in the abdomen) and for signs of inflammation to rule out certain diseases of the colon.
The possibility of colon cancer is usually considered in people 50 and older and in those with a family history of colorectal cancer, particularly if they have never had a colon examination (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy). These tests may also be appropriate for someone with symptoms including unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, or blood in the stool.
For those with chronic belching, your doctor will look for signs or causes of excessive air swallowing. If needed, an upper GI series (x-ray to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine) may be performed to rule out disease.

What Are the Treatments for Gas?

Gas problems are treated by changing your diet and by training yourself to swallow less air. There are also prescription and over-the-counter medications that can help reduce gas.
Changing your diet will mean eliminating the foods that cause gas. Unfortunately, this may also eliminate many nutritious foods that you need every day. You will have to work with your doctor to construct a diet that is healthy and doesn't cause excessive gas. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian to help you with eating a healthy diet.
Over-the-counter medications such as antacids can also relieve gas symptoms. Some antacids contain simethicone, which helps eliminate gas in the stomach.
For people who have lactose intolerance, the enzyme "lactase" helps digest dairy and other foods that contain lactose. Lactase products can be purchased over the counter and include Lactaid and Dairy Ease.
The over-the-counter product Beano contains the enzyme that helps digest sugars in beans and many other vegetables. Beano is taken right before eating.
Some people have a digestive disorder in which the normal movement of the gastrointestinal tract is limited (motility disorder), such as IBS. Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs to help move food through your digestive system. Drugs that improve the motility of the digestive tract, such as Reglan, may move gas through the digestive tract more quickly.

What Can I Do to Swallow Less Air and Reduce Gas?

In order to reduce the amount of air that you swallow and reduce gas, you can try the following methods:
  • Don't chew gum or eat hard candy.
  • Slow down when you are eating.
  • If you wear dentures, check to be sure they fit properly.

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M Junaid Tahir

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