Gas is a product of healthy digestion. It occurs when bacteria break down carbohydrates in the large intestine.
Experts estimate that the average person produces 0.6 to 1.8 liters of gas every day. Gas leaves the digestive tract when a person burps or passes gas, which a typical healthy person does 12–25 times a day.
Though intestinal gas is not usually painful, painful gas is not necessarily a cause for concern.
This article describes what painful gas feels like and some of the short- and long-term causes. It also explores ways to reduce the amount of gas and ease any associated pain in adults and babies.
Painful gas can occur with cramping. A person may feel a dull ache or a series of sharp, stapping pains in the chest or abdomen.
Gas can also occur with:
A number of factors can cause painful gas, including:
- swallowing excess air, as a result of:
- eating or drinking too fast
- drinking carbonated beverages
- drinking through a straw
- chewing gum
- sucking on hard candy
- wearing ill-fitting dentures
- eating foods that can cause gas, such as:
- postnasal drip
- chronic pain or tension
People who experience frequent bouts of gas may find it helpful to track what and when they eat and drink. Keeping a record can help a person identify and avoid foods and drinks that trigger abdominal discomfort.
For some people, painful gas is a recurrent problem. It may result from any of the following health issues.
A food intolerance involves difficulty digesting a particular component of food. For example, a person may have:
- Celiac disease: This autoimmune disorder causes inflammation in the small intestine whenever the person consumes gluten. It can cause the small intestine to absorb fewer nutrients from the diet.
- Lactose intolerance: This involves difficulty digesting lactose, a sugar in most dairy products.
- Dietary fructose intolerance: This involves trouble digesting fructose, a sugar in most fruits and some vegetables.
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) is the medical name for having excess bacteria in the small intestine.
It result from having low stomach acid or reduced muscle contractions or coordination within the small intestine.
The symptoms of SIBO can differ from person to person, but some include:
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) involves stomach acid regularly traveling up from the stomach into the esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach.
- pain in the chest or abdomen
- a sensation of food getting stuck in the esophagus
- a sour taste in the mouth
- bad breath
- a chronic sore throat
Irritable bowel syndrome
- food passing through the large intestine too quickly or too slowly
- oversensitivity of the nerves in the intestines
- a genetic predisposition
The symptoms of IBS may be constant or may come and go. Bouts of symptoms may last days, weeks, or even months and involve:
- abdominal pain and cramping, which may pass after a bowel movement
- abdominal bloating or swelling
- excessive flatulence
- an urgent need to pass stool
Over-the-counter medications can help alleviate painful gas. Some examples include:
Alpha-galactosidase is an enzyme that the body needs to break down naturally occurring sugars in beans, grains, and vegetables. A person takes it before eating.
Alpha-galactosidase is available under the following brand names:
- Gas-Zyme 3X
Simethicone is a drug that helps gas move more quickly through the digestive tract. This can help ease bloating and abdominal pain and discomfort.
Simethicone is available under the brand names Mylanta Gas and Gas-X. The latter is available by prescription for children and infants.
Lactase is an enzyme that helps the body break down lactose.
People who are lactose intolerant may benefit from taking lactase pills or drops with meals or snacks that contain dairy.
However, lactase may not be suitable for children under 3 years of age or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
To prevent or treat episodes of painful gas, a person can try:
- Quitting smoking: Smoking causes a person to swallow excess air.
- Changing eating habits: Aim to eat smaller meals throughout the day, and go slowly. Also, it can help to avoid or eliminate foods and drinks that trigger gas, such as:
- foods high in fiber
- broccoli and cauliflower
- foods high in difficult-to-digest carbs, called FODMAP foods
- carbonated drinks
- Walking or moving around: Gentle activity can help gas travel within the body and pass. Yoga, walking, stretching can help.
- Heat: A heating pad or a warm bath can relax the abdominal muscles, allowing gas to escape more easily.
A baby who is experiencing gas may:
- draw their legs into their belly
- arch their back
- clench their fists
The 2011 study also found that switching colicky infants to a low-lactose formula resulted in an improvement in symptoms.
To prevent painful gas in babies, try:
- feeding infants before they get too hungry, so that they do not swallow excess air as a result of crying
- making sure that the baby is in a good position and has a good latch during feeding, to prevent them from swallowing excess air
- burping babies during and after feedings
Gas can collect in different parts of the colon. The location of the gas can cause symptoms that mimic those of certain health problems.
Other conditions that cause symptoms that resemble painful gas include:
- Abdominal adhesions: These scar-like formations of tissue often develop after surgery. They can cause pain and bloating and may require specialist treatment.
- Abdominal hernia: This is a point of weakness in the abdominal wall, and muscle or fat may bulge out of it. It can cause bloating and pain and may require surgical repair.
- Colon cancer: Persistent abdominal pain and cramping can be symptoms of colon cancer.
- Ovarian cancer: Abdominal pain and bloating can indicate ovarian cancer. If symptoms continue daily for more than a few weeks, consult a doctor.
It is normal for gas to cause occasional discomfort or pain, which usually resolves on its own or with home care techniques.
However, severe or persistent painful gas may indicate an underlying medical issue.
Also, see a doctor if painful gas accompanies:
- difficulty eating
- changes in bowel habits
- blood in urine or stool
- unexplained weight loss
- the onset of any new symptoms
Gas is a normal product of healthy digestion, but it can sometimes trigger pain, bloating, belching, and flatulence. This typically goes away on its own, with home care, or with over-the-counter medication.
However, if painful gas is severe or persistent, see a doctor. This is especially important because gas-related symptoms can mimic those of more serious health issues.