Because gas symptoms may be caused by a serious disorder, those causes should be ruled out. The doctor usually begins with a review of dietary habits and symptoms. The doctor may ask the patient to keep a diary of foods and beverages consumed for a specific time period.
If lactase deficiency is the suspected cause of gas, the doctor may suggest avoiding milk products for a period of time. A blood or breath test may be used to diagnose lactose intolerance.
In addition, to determine if someone produces too much gas in the colon or is unusually sensitive to the passage of normal gas volumes, the doctor may ask patients to count the number of times they pass gas during the day and include this information in a diary.
Careful review of diet and the amount of gas passed may help relate specific foods to symptoms and determine the severity of the problem.
If a patient complains of bloating, the doctor may examine the abdomen for the sound of fluid movement to rule out ascites (build up of fluid in the abdomen) and for signs of inflammation to rule out diseases of the colon.
The possibility of colon cancer is usually considered in people 50 years of age and older and in those with a family history of colorectal cancer, particularly if they have never had a colon examination (sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy). These tests may also be appropriate for someone with unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, or blood not visible in the stool.
For those with chronic belching, the doctor will look for signs or causes of excessive air swallowing. If needed, an upper GI series (x-ray to view the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine) may be performed to rule out disease.How is gas treated?
The most common ways to reduce the discomfort of gas are changing diet, taking medicines, and reducing the amount of air swallowed.Diet
Doctors may tell people to eat fewer foods that cause gas. However, for some people this may mean cutting out healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and milk products.
Doctors may also suggest limiting high-fat foods to reduce bloating and discomfort. This helps the stomach empty faster, allowing gases to move into the small intestine.
Unfortunately, the amount of gas caused by certain foods varies from person to person. Effective dietary changes depend on learning through trial and error how much of the offending foods one can handle.Nonprescription medicines
Many nonprescription, over-the-counter medicines are available to help reduce symptoms, including antacids with simethicone and activated charcoal. Digestive enzymes, such as lactase supplements, actually help digest carbohydrates and may allow people to eat foods that normally cause gas.
Antacids, such as Mylanta II, Maalox II and Di-Gel, contain simethicone, a foaming agent that joins gas bubbles in the stomach so that gas is more easily belched away. However, these medicines have no effect on intestinal gas. The recommended dose is 2 to 4 tablespoons of the simethicone preparation taken 1/2 to 2 hours after meals.
Activated charcoal tablets (Charcocaps) may provide relief from gas in the colon. Studies have shown that when taken before and after a meal, intestinal gas is greatly reduced. The usual dose is 2 to 4 tablets taken just before eating and 1 hour after meals.
The enzyme lactase, which aids with lactose digestion, is available in liquid and tablet form without a prescription (Lactaid, Lactrase, and Dairy Ease). Adding a few drops of liquid lactase to milk before drinking it or chewing lactase tablets just before eating helps digest foods that contain lactose. Also, lactose-reduced milk and other products are available at many grocery stores (Lactaid and Dairy Ease).
Beano, a newer over-the-counter digestive aid, contains the sugar-digesting enzyme that the body lacks to digest the sugar in beans and many vegetables. The enzyme comes in liquid form. Three to 10 drops are added per serving just before eating to break down the gas-producing sugars. Beano has no effect on gas caused by lactose or fiber.Prescription medicines
Doctors may prescribe medicines to help reduce symptoms, especially for people with a motility disorder, such as IBS. Promotility or prokinetic drugs, such as metoclopramide (Reglan) and cisapride (Propulsid), may move gas through the digestive tract quickly.Reducing swallowed air
For those who have chronic belching, doctors may suggest ways to reduce the amount of air swallowed. Recommendations are to avoid chewing gum and to avoid eating hard candy. Eating at a slow pace and checking with a dentist to make sure dentures fit properly should also help.