If intestinal gas is accompanied by other symptoms, see a physician.
Treatment for trapped intestinal gas may be classified into dietary changes, medication and reducing the amount of air that is swallowed. This condition is normal but can be embarrassing and even uncomfortable in some cases. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, people produce 1 to 4 pints of intestinal gas per day and pass gas an average of 14 times per day.
Intestinal gas consists primarily of carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, which do not have an odor. Nitrogen, oxygen and the majority of the carbon dioxide are derived from the air that is swallowed while chewing gum, drinking, eating and smoking. However, other gases produced during digestion, such as methane and sulfur-containing compounds, do have an unpleasant odor. Bacteria that normally reside in the large intestine produce these gases as a byproduct of deriving energy from undigested food in a process called fermentation.
There are many foods that may cause intestinal gas, especially carbohydrates since they frequently contain sugars that are indigestible. This allows bacteria to ferment these sugars, which produces gas. People with excess intestinal gas may need to reduce a few of these foods for a week or two at a time to identify the class of foods responsible.
The most well-known group of indigestible sugars is the raffinose sugars commonly found in beans, asparagus, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and whole grains. According to the University of Michigan Health System, there are several steps that can be taken to reduce the intake of raffinose sugars without eliminating beans from the diet:
Lactose is a sugar found in dairy products, such as milk, cheese, ice cream, cereals, processed breads and salad dressings, and is broken down by an enzyme called lactase. Some people are deficient in lactase, especially those of African, Asian and Native American descent. A doctor may recommend that these patients eliminate lactose-rich foods from their diet or consume only dairy products that contain lactase. Patients on a diet that is free of dairy products will need to take calcium supplements.
Other sugars can also be difficult for some people to digest. Fructose is common in processed foods and soft drinks, and is also found in vegetables, such as artichokes, onions, pears and wheat. Fruits such as apples, peaches, pears and prunes contain a sugar called sorbitol that may also be hard for some people to digest. Sorbitol can also be found in candies, chewing gum and some sugar-free foods. Complex carbohydrates such as corn, noodles, potatoes and wheat may cause intestinal gas as well. Dietary fiber is also a gas producer and may be found in foods such as beans and wheat bran. One study has shown that gas production increased by 10 times when the diet of the research subjects consisted primarily of pork and beans.
According to the Mayo Clinic, some over-the-counter medication may be effective in relieving excess intestinal gas. Lactase is a digestive enzyme contained in medications such as Lactaid and Lactrase, which may aid in digesting dairy products. Alpha-galactosidase is a digestive enzyme that is the active ingredient in Beano and may relieve the gas produced by raffinose sugars.
Medications such as Mylanta and Di-Gel that contain antacids or simethicone may promote the belching of stomach gas but will not affect intestinal gas. Anti-gas medications that contain activated charcoal such as CharcoCaps and Nature's Way Activated Charcoal may be only slightly effective at best.
Several activities can increase the amount of air that is swallowed, which may then accumulate in the intestines. These include chewing gum, drinking through a straw, sucking on candy and smoking. Carbonated beverages should be avoided as well since they contain large amounts of carbon dioxide gas.
A doctor should be consulted if intestinal gas is associated with other symptoms such as blood in the stool, constipation, diarrhea, heartburn, unintentional weight loss or vomiting. Intestinal gas rarely indicates a serious medical condition unless it is accompanied by other symptoms. However, excessive or persistent intestinal gas may be a sign of digestive disorders, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis, celiac disease or irritable bowel syndrome.