Passing gas is a normal part of the digestion process. However, if gas becomes trapped in the intestines, it can feel very uncomfortable or even painful. Trapped gas has several different causes and various treatment options.
A person may experience sharp pain or discomfort in their abdomen if gas does not move through their intestines normally.
Gas is usually the result of bacteria digesting food in the large intestine or the person swallowing air when eating or drinking.
It is normal for people to pass gas roughly 13–21 times a day.
However, gas may not move well through a person’s digestive system if they produce excess gas due to eating particular foods, or they experience certain gastrointestinal conditions.
In this article, we look at the causes and symptoms of trapped gas, the home remedies and treatments, and when to speak to a doctor.
Trapped gas is a very common problem that some people may find embarrassing.
However, it is usually not a cause for concern and often resolves by itself.
When a person eats or drinks, they swallow tiny amounts of air. Gas may also arise as a byproduct of digesting certain foods. This gas accumulates in the body, and a person may release it by either belching or passing wind.
If the body produces excessive gas, it may not easily pass through the digestive system, and the resulting pressure can lead to pain.
The symptoms of trapped gas usually appear suddenly.
Some people may experience an intense sharp stabbing pain, while others may notice a general feeling of discomfort in the abdomen.
A person may also have stomach bloating and find that they are belching or passing gas more than usual as the excess gas tries to leave the body.
If gas accumulates, some people may mistake the pain for a different condition. For example, if gas accumulates on the right of the body, it may feel similar to gallbladder pain, whereas if it accumulates on the left, it may feel like chest pain.
Various methods can help provide relief from trapped gas. The most effective method will vary among individuals. Therefore, a person may need to experiment to determine what works best and most quickly for them.
Certain yoga positions or relaxing positions may also help a person release gas. Anecdotal evidence suggests that pawanmuktasana, known as the gas release pose, may be particularly useful for this.
Other natural remedies, such as anise, caraway, coriander, and turmeric, may also help.
Although research is still ongoing, the European Food Safety Authority have stated that there is sufficient evidence to suggest that activated charcoal can help reduce excessive gas. A 2017 study, for example, found that activated charcoal might help reduce stomach pain and trapped gas.
Some people may prefer to treat the symptoms of trapped gas with over-the-counter (OTC) remedies. These include antiflatulents, such as simethicone.
Simethicone works by bringing together small gas bubbles in the intestine to form larger bubbles, making it easier for the gas to pass through the body.
There are many possible causes of trapped gas, including those below.
While eating or drinking, everyone swallows a small amount of air. However, certain activities may cause a person to swallow more air.
These activities include:
- chewing gum
- drinking carbonated beverages
- sucking on hard candy
- eating or drinking too quickly
- wearing loose fitting dentures
In these cases, if the gas does not escape the body through belching, it may move to the intestines and result in trapped gas.
Some foods and drinks
Consuming certain foods and drinks can also produce excessive gas, which can result in trapped wind.
During the digestion process, bacteria help break down carbohydrates in the large intestines.
Excessive gas and bloating may occur when people consume foods and drinks high in complex carbohydrates, which include:
- fruits and fruit juices
- carbonated beverages
- whole grains
- milk products
- foods containing lactose
- sugar-free products containing sorbitol, mannitol, or xylitol
- supplementary fiber, such as inulin and fructo-oligosaccharide
Some digestive conditions may cause a person to produce more gas than usual or to experience more severe symptoms when they have gas. These conditions include:
- small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- celiac disease
- lactose intolerance
- fructose intolerance
- dumping syndrome
- bowel obstruction
- colon cancer
People can take many measures to reduce or prevent trapped gas and gas symptoms.
For example, they can take steps to swallow less air. These steps may include eating slower, avoiding gum and hard candies, and not using a straw.
A doctor may also suggest adopting healthful lifestyle changes, if necessary, such as:
- Exercising more regularly: Physical activity can help enhance the functioning of the digestive system.
- Quitting smoking: Smoking causes people to swallow air, and it may also irritate the digestive system.
- Making dietary changes: Avoiding certain foods, particularly if people are aware of foods that trigger symptoms, can help reduce gas. Eating smaller, more frequent meals may also be beneficial.
Some OTC medicines may also help people pass gas more easily or produce less gas while digesting foods.
A doctor will likely diagnose trapped gas by taking the person’s medical history and carrying out a physical exam.
They will also ask the person about their symptoms, eating habits, and current medication.
During the physical exam, the doctor will usually check for pain, bloating, swelling, or tenderness in the abdomen. They may also listen to the area using a stethoscope.
If the doctor suspects that an underlying condition is causing excessive gas or increasing the symptoms of trapped gas, they may order more tests.
Alternatively, they may ask the person to keep a food diary to see whether specific foods are causing gas.
Trapped gas is not usually serious, so it should not generally be a cause for concern.
However, if a person frequently experiences trapped gas, or the discomfort lasts for a long time, it may be advisable to seek medical attention.
A person should also speak with a doctor if their symptoms suddenly change, or they experience additional symptoms, such as constipation, diarrhea, or weight loss.
A doctor may be able to diagnose an underlying condition causing excessive gas or identify another reason for the abdominal discomfort.
Everyone passes gas. However, some digestive conditions can cause excessive gas production, as can eating certain foods. The excess gas may not pass easily through the digestive system, resulting in trapped gas.
While trapped gas may cause discomfort, it usually passes on its own after a few hours.
Some people may be able to relieve pain due to trapped gas using natural remedies, certain body positions, or OTC medications. Avoiding known trigger foods or drinks can help prevent trapped gas from occurring.
A person should speak with a doctor if they often have trapped gas, the pain is long lasting, or they are also experiencing other symptoms.