Many people joke about intestinal gas and its noisy aftermath, but there's nothing funny about severe gas pain. Sometimes this pain can be so severe, the related symptoms may feel like a heart attack or severe intestinal disorder. The pain related to excess gas, which is typically caused by swallowed air or intestinal gas production, will improve in time, but can be more quickly remedied using over-the-counter (OTC) medications and other home remedies. There are also several steps you can take to avoid gas buildup.
Gas pain is related to abnormal amounts of trapped air in the stomach or intestines. After trapped gas is released -- and after some burping or passing of gas -- the pain should subside. One way to free trapped gas is to move your body. Take a walk, gently massage your abdomen, or lie on your back or side and pull your knees up to your chest. Alternatively, participate in your usual exercise program if you feel up to it. Since gas is trapped by stool, having a bowel movement will typically hasten the release of gas and improve your symptoms.
Drinking fluids stimulates peristalsis, or the snake-like movement of the intestines, which helps push fecal matter -- and intestinal gas -- towards the rectum for elimination. Sometimes this movement of stool can temporarily make gas pains worse, but ultimately this pain should resolve when the stool and gas leave your system. So drink more water or other beverages without bubbles -- since carbonated drinks can contribute to gas buildup. There's also limited evidence peppermint tea can help, as peppermint oil has antispasmodic effects which may relax the smooth gut muscles, relieving the spasm and distention that causes gas pain. Other teas may be of value in managing gas, including chamomile, anise, caraway, fennel, coriander and turmeric, although more research is needed to prove their effectiveness.
Applying heat to the abdominal area can provide some relief by relaxing muscles, which can reduce pain, although the warmth may not help the gas resolve more quickly. Try soaking in a warm bath for 15 to 30 minutes, or apply a heating pad or a hot water bottle to your abdomen for 15 minutes at a time. However, protect your skin from damage by placing a thin towel or a layer of clothing between your skin and the heat.
Try OTC Relief
Certain OTC products might help counter bloating and gas, but there's limited evidence they are effective in treating severe gas pains. Simethicone, found in numerous anti-gas products, helps break up gas bubbles in the stomach and intestines. In addition, certain digestive enzymes work to prevent gas from forming -- but do not treat gas that is already trapped in the gastrointestinal tract. The lactase enzyme, when taken with dairy products, helps the body digest lactose -- or milk sugar -- reducing gas production in people with lactose intolerance. Another OTC product is Beano, which contains alpha-galactosidase, a digestive enzyme that helps break down the carbohydrates found in beans, peas, lentils and certain vegetables, such as broccoli and cabbage.
Prevention Tips: Limit Swallowed Air
Taking steps to reduce gas buildup, whenever possible, is the best way to avoid severe gas pain. One way to prevent excess gas is to minimize swallowed air, which can be accomplished if you:
- Eat and drink slowly, and avoid the use of straws
- Avoid carbonated beverages
- Stay away from chewing tobacco and cigarettes
- Avoid chewing gum
- Ensure your dentures fit well, if applicable
Prevention Tips: Limit Gas-Forming Foods
Certain foods can lead to abnormal amounts of intestinal gas production. If you have lactose intolerance, limit or avoid milk and other products that contain cow's milk, or use lactase drops or pills to improve digestion of these foods. Limit or avoid foods sweetened with sugar alcohols -- such as sorbitol or mannitol -- as these are also known to cause intestinal gas. Certain high fiber foods, including beans, whole grains, and some fruits and vegetables, may be problematic if you consume more than usual or if you don't digest these foods well, so gradually increase fiber in the diet and limits foods you have found to be problematic. If you need guidance on which foods to avoid and how to manage your diet to avoid gas-forming foods, ask your doctor for a referral to a dietitian.
Most of the time, gas and related discomfort resolves in time or with the help of home remedies, and does not require medical attention. However, if you have frequent or severe gas pains with no obvious dietary cause or solution, or if you also have weight loss or other gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting or heartburn, see your doctor.
Reviewed by Kay Peck, MPH RD
- Merck Manual: Gas-Related Complaints
- American Academy of Family Physicians: Bloating
- Gastroenterology and Hepatology: Management Strategies for Abdominal Bloating and Distension
- National Institute of Health: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: Treatment for Gas in the Digestive Tract
- U.S. Pharmacist: Strategies for the Relief of Bloating and Gas
- JSM Gastroenterology and Hepatology: Peppermint Oil: Clinical Uses in the Treatment of Gastrointestinal Diseases