Burping and passing gas is evidence of air and other gases trapped inside the digestive tract. Everyone passes gas. In fact, most people pass gas on average 14 times per day.
How Does Gas or Air Get Inside the Digestive Tract?
Swallowing air is a common entry point. Chewing gum, sucking on hard candies, smoking, or eating and drinking quickly, all allow air into the stomach. Bacteria in the intestines responsible for breaking down foods can produce gases as a byproduct of digesting certain foods. Foods that commonly cause gas include:
- Beans, cabbage, brussel sprouts, asparagus.
- Lactose found in milk and other dairy products and processed foods containing dairy.
- Fructose, both naturally occurring as in pears and onions, and as a sweetener added to drinks.
- Sorbitol, also found in pears and other fruits and in many sugar-free candies and gum.
- Most starches, with the exception of rice, cause gas: potatoes, corn, pasta, and wheat products.
- Fiber, chiefly soluble fiber, which is found in oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruit.
When Should You See A Doctor?
Bloating and belching are both symptoms of gas build up in the digestive tract. Occasional gas is not a cause for alarm and usually resolves itself with little or no intervention. When gas and bloating become chronic it is time to seek the help of a gastroenterologist to determine the source of the problem. Many conditions and illnesses share gas and bloating as a symptom. Some are easy to treat. Lactose intolerance is a benign condition that responds well to dietary changes and simple over the counter medications.
On the other hand, serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease and colon cancer can cause bowel obstructions which, in turn, can cause bloating. Those extremes are the reason to avoid long term self-diagnoses and self-medication, and seek help for symptoms that last longer than two weeks or become incapacitating.
The doctor will take a detailed history of your symptoms and depending on the results of a physical exam, may recommend additional testing. Treatment will solely depend on the diagnosis.