Everyone knows about the "rotten egg" fart, but what about when that aroma comes out the other end? Yep, we're talking about sulfur burps.
Here's what can cause these malodorous belches, and what you can do to stop them.
The Role of Acid Reflux
Often, belching is caused by swallowing air, whether you do this because you're chatting up a storm at dinner, rushing through a meal or sipping carbonated drinks. However, "belching can also be a sign of acid reflux," Terrence Barrett, MD, chief in the division of digestive diseases and nutrition at UK HealthCare in Lexington, Kentucky, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
So, here's what's happening: Where your esophagus joins the stomach, there is the lower esophageal sphincter (LES) — it's job is to keep that joint shut. But consuming foods that contain caffeine, peppermint or alcohol can loosen up the LES, allowing stomach contents to bubble back up and irritate the esophagus, Dr. Barrett explains. Usually that's acid, triggering heartburn. But it can also be gas. When that happens, gas in the stomach can push on the LES, leading to irritation that opens it up and releases belches, he says.
"Belches may taste like what you ate," Dr. Barrett says.
If your burps smell like rotten eggs or sulfur, that might be the result of a combination of liquified food and bile (which helps you digest your food). If bile backs up into your stomach and into your esophagus, it's called bile reflux, notes the Mayo Clinic. As a result, when you burp, you might be able to smell or taste the bile salts, some of which contain sulfur.
Your gastroenterologist might suggest taking an over-the-counter proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), like omeprazole ($14.91 for 42, Amazon) to see if it helps. Though these types of meds, which work by stopping stomach acid production, are easily accessed OTC, chat with your doctor first to make sure that it's safe and recommended for you to take.
In addition, practice lifestyle strategies to lessen the risk of reflux in the first place, Dr. Barrett says. That includes decreasing consumption of caffeine and alcohol, and avoiding fatty, spicy and acidic foods (like citrus and tomatoes), notes the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
You should also stop eating at least three hours before laying down, so schedule dinner well before bedtime.
Can Certain Foods Cause Sulfur Burps?
Another possible cause? It's your diet.
"Sulfur burps occur when the digestive tract creates a type of gas called hydrogen sulfide," Niket Sonpal, MD, a New York City-based internist and gastroenterologist, tells LIVESTRONG.com. That might happen in response to the following foods, Dr. Sonpal says:
- Whole milk
- High-protein foods
- Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower
What if You Have Sulfur Burps and Diarrhea?
Your GI doctor may consider irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition that usually comes with bloating and abdominal pain, too.
Diarrhea and rotten-egg burps could also be linked to stress, Dr. Barrett says. Stress can set off esophageal spams and intestinal spasms that result in reflux, as well as an upset stomach, nausea or diarrhea, he says. However, it is best to be evaluated first before assuming that the underlying cause is stress.
If you're experiencing diarrhea and sulfur burps along with other symptoms, like stomach cramps, nausea or vomiting, then the problem could also be an infection, Dr. Sonpal says.
The bottom line: It's important to pay attention to additional symptoms and report those to your doctor.
How to Get Rid of Sulfur Burps
If you're concerned about these rotten-egg belches, Dr. Sonpal recommends keeping a journal detailing the foods you're eating and your daily habits, which can help you make the connection between your diet and any GI distress.
"If you still cannot find the connection, contact a gastroenterologist. There are several tests to help identify the source of your digestive problems," Dr. Sonpal says.
For any GI concern, docs look for red-flag symptoms that indicate a bigger problem. Those include unintended weight loss, changes in activity level or exercise related to fatigue and blood in the stool. Call your doctor right away if you notice any of these changes.