What is stomach gas?

Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie

Many of us have had instances in the past when the presence of gas in the stomach was perceived as a problem or when we felt it was not comfortable to have it in such volumes or with such frequency.

Generally, belching can help to release such gas and produce some relief. In another dimension, when the gas goes beyond the level of the stomach and gets into the intestines, it is responsible for the process of farting. That also produces much relief and both phenomena are normal.

Some time ago, we explored the unique experience of farting which we concluded was not an aberration but a necessary engagement of the intestines designed to cause relief once the social conditions for doing so permit.

Mostly, gas accumulates in the stomach from the air we swallow when we talk, sing, eat or cry. Many people who have reached the teenage years and over are able to exert such control over the act of belching or burping in a socially acceptable way. In children, poor control over such mechanisms due to immaturity usually makes them cry.

The mothers respond by giving them such products as Piccan, Gbomoro, Gripe water and even Teething powder in the erroneous belief that such gas accumulation in the stomach and intestines can be relieved by those medications.

When the symptoms of stomach gas accumulation are mild or not frequent, it is not actually a cause of concern. Most times, a walk around the house for a few minutes can help deal with the resulting discomfort. Many others turn to over-the-counter antacids and minty drinks that can help to bring it up so that the person can belch.

Among the Nupes, a loud belch after a meal is often seen as the result of great satisfaction from the meal itself and can be expected to be released in the loudest possible fashion after each meal. However, when the discomfort associated with gas accumulation in the stomach becomes frequent or it becomes persistent, it would point towards the presence of a problem arising from the stomach or intestines that demands treatment. That system in the body is known as the gastrointestinal system.

The most commonly experienced symptoms of having gas in the stomach include a sensation of bloating, some abdominal pain sometimes or a vague discomfort, passing of flatus and burping. Sometimes, other features such as diarrhoea, heartburn, constipation and indigestion may accompany the other symptoms mentioned previously.

As discussed in the first chapter, belching or passing flatus are two wonderful methods of getting relief. In addition to talking, eating and singing, people usually would swallow air when smoking cigarettes or pipes, drinking beverages such as carbonated drinks or even beer, chewing bubble gum and drinking too fast such as might happen when the throat is parched as a result of dehydration.

Such a feeling is also common among people who suffer from some types of food intolerance such as lactose when an enzyme called lactase that is responsible for helping to digest milk and its associated products such as cheese, yoghurt and ice cream, is absent. It is believed to be widely absent in many Africans. Some foods produce more gas than others. Vegetables such as onions and broccoli, beans, high fibre foods like whole grains and potatoes, and greens like cabbage generally also produce lots of gas.

Fructose intolerance which is the inability to digest the sugar in fruits can similarly cause such discomfort as lactose intolerance. The same is true for people who suffer from gluten intolerance which we also have talked about on this page when we discussed the hype surrounding the healthiness of eating wheat bread. Gluten is widely available in many grains like wheat, millet and sorghum, and can often be blamed for the inconvenience which eating it in such people can bring about.

Among this category of food intolerance, skin rashes and body itching may be associated problems. There are some less common causes of gas in the stomach which include problems like peptic ulcer disease, cancer of the colon, intestinal obstruction and hernias, particularly the inguinal hernias when they do get obstructed.

This is also true of a range of intestinal problems, known as irritable bowel syndrome, that often cause abdominal pain, changes in bowel movements that lead to the irregular passage of stool, and the onset of vague abdominal discomfort, flatulence diarrhoea and back pain. The exact cause of this malady is not known but the theory is that food generally passes through the intestines too rapidly or too slowly.

 However, the theory that slow passage of food through the intestines may be a cause finds some support in the presence of another intestinal condition in which food passes so slowly through the small intestines, that there is almost no movement at all. That situation, therefore, promotes the growth of excessive numbers of bacteria which then produce a lot of gas thus causing increased bloating and flatulence.

In addition to all the features seen above, this particular condition can cause fatigue such that in extreme cases, the absorption of nutrients from the intestinal contents may become so poor that shortage of blood and weight loss can become added problems. In the same way, gas accumulating in the intestines may be due to fermentation occurring when a person eats food. In the stomach, the food is broken down and passed into the intestines mainly due to the effect of acids.

Within the intestines, pancreatic juice and bile acids break the food down further in a process that then releases gases. Those gases that form are then able to make their way out of the body either by travelling upwards into the stomach from where they are released through belching or further down the intestine from where they are released through the anus as a fart.

Also, people who suffer from another intestinal disease condition known as Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, often suffer from heartburn, excessive belching and acid reflux. Such people may have come to understand that when they belch, they could experience a foul taste in the mouth in addition to regurgitating food. By this is meant that the food particles in the stomach, as well as acid, often leak into the oesophagus, the tube which connects the mouth with the stomach.

Many people get awoken at night after dinner by this occurrence, and in some cases, it is so severe that the food particles also come out from the nostrils. Frustration with the situation is common as it disturbs the pattern of sleep and causes fear.

When these issues have become something of a concern, it is wise to go to a hospital and see a doctor. However, there is a range of home remedies one can employ in order to obtain some comfort and these include efforts to chew food more thoroughly than ever before, refrain from taking too many sodas and quitting smoking. The use of peppermint and clove are known to help.

When the above home measures do not work, people may opt for some over-the-counter medications usually not any more complicated than antacids and medications such as Imodium if diarrhoea is present. In our amazing country, many would rather opt for metronidazole in the mistaken belief that it is an antidiarrhoeal agent. Finally, when these measures fail to work and a doctor is seen, a cocktail of anti-ulcer therapy is usually prescribed.

Questions and answers

Dear doctor, thank you for the explanation of the apparatus located in the ear. It was clear and simple such that a non-medical person like me can understand. I give thanks to the Almighty father for your life and work. I shall arrange to follow your instructions and would give you feedback. From deep within me, I say thank you and God bless you. 0808xxxxxxx

Thank you so very much for your feedback on the answer you got from us. I hope it will guide you as you have indicated. As for your prayers, thank you very much and God bless you also.

 Dear doctor, I am the lady who had pimples on her face. Thanks for your advice. I have been suffering from a toilet infection and since I started experiencing it, it has been hard for me to menstruate. Sometimes, it stops my menstruation and sometimes, I will see it twice in a month at which time it will come out in small quantities——not even up to the three days that I normally do it. I sought advice from my friends and they told me that it can damage my womb. That is, I will not be able to give birth. Please, doctor, that is my fear. I don’t want to lose my womb. Please what can I do doctor? 0904xxxxxxx  

Frankly, there are many of you with similar complaints and sometimes, one is chosen to represent the rest so I have no knowledge of your age. At any rate, there are three problems here that you have and the third one is the wrong assumption you harbour that the infection you have now is responsible for your irregular periods. So first, your friends have advised you well when they tell you that this infection can damage your fallopian tubes and not your womb. With such damage, you could find it difficult to get pregnant but it will not prevent you from giving birth once you actually get pregnant.

These are two separate entities. If you can get pregnant, you will eventually give birth. So you need to go to a hospital, get properly examined so that the bacteria causing the infection can be isolated. Once that is done, you will be able to get the treatment that is effective. Finally, a separate problem may be responsible for your irregular periods and it is likely to be due to certain hormones not operating in your body in the correct ratios. Your doctor will also run a test to determine what is responsible for that and offer you treatment for that problem.

Dear doctor, good day doctor. Well done for the work you are doing sir. I recently moved into a new apartment and found that the store of the house adjacent to the kitchen had several crates of soft drinks which expired in July 2020. Also, there were about four packs of water all of which also expired in October 2020. I wanted to discard both the drinks and the water but on second thoughts, I chose to seek an informed opinion. I live in Uromi in Edo State. Thank you very much. 0703xxxxxxx   

You have acted safely. My advice would be to get rid of the soft drinks. You may be harmed by consuming any of them. The water, however, is another matter. That area of Edo State almost never has safe potable water other than what is obtained from rainfall into wells dug usually in the front of the compounds. These bottles of water can give you clean water for your cooking needs for some time and I would say you should use the water for that purpose.

Dear doctor, thank you so much for all your past help on this platform. I have been nursing a terrible pain in my right shoulder for about three years now. I am not able to raise the arm above my shoulder and I cannot also wash my back properly. I have used several pain medications prescribed by different doctors but nothing is working. About 10 days ago, one doctor suggested that I should go and do an X-ray of the shoulder. I did it but nothing was found. Is that possible? What can this be? Thank you. 0802xxxxxxx

You have my sincere thanks as well for your support over time. When you have a pain like this one and nothing is seen on X-Rays, it doesn’t make the problem a mystery. It only indicates that not enough investigations have been conducted. I can let you know here and now that you would perhaps benefit from having an MRI of the joint done. When you do so, the cause of so much pain should become evident. Since you are not able to wash your back or lift the arm adequately, it would mean that either the tendons responsible for rotation movements around the shoulder joint are damaged or those that elevate it are at fault. Either way, focused treatment can be obtained at the hands of an orthopaedic surgeon. It is also likely that you never used any of the various medications you were given for long enough.

Dear doctor. I am in trouble. I am 57 years old and was sexually active as recently as December 2020. Now, all of a sudden, I do not even have the desire for sex. There is no erection, nothing. I have tried every trick available to my wife and me including the watching of x-rated films which we invested in; nothing still. I take blood pressure medications but that has been so for many years, about 20 years. I know that this problem has to do with testosterone in the body so how can I boost it so that I can return to normal? What do you suggest I do? Thank you. 0706xxxxxxx

Well, this is a potentially reversible problem that has just arrived at your door at an interesting pace. You are pointing the finger at two possible causes, the anti-hypertensive medications you are taking and testosterone but neither one will cause a sudden loss of libido like you are describing. The best way to find out what has happened to you is to see a urologist who will examine you and carry out the necessary investigations. If the level of testosterone is found to be inadequate, there are supplements you can be given but at the present time, what has happened seems like one of those events that take place without a clear explanation. You will benefit greatly from seeing a urologist.

 Dear doctor, I have been in contact with you a couple of years back when I discussed my PSA values being high. You asked me to see a urologist for examination and diagnosis. Well, I did not go to a urologist because my doctor said he could treat me. He described everything to me then as a slight enlargement that will need to be shrunken and I agreed. He extracted something from my body but I can’t remember how he did it. He sent that to the lab and had that discussion with me before I started the treatment. The doctor died last year and all I could do was buy the drugs and use them on my own. I repeated the PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) last month and it is 483ng/ml. How can I see you and what do I do now? 0902xxxxxxx

The problem that you have described above does not require you to see me. You will still need to go to a urologist who will not be extracting something from your body but will do a proper biopsy of the prostate gland so that the nature of the problem you have can be accurately established. This aspect of the management of your condition is not a result of guesswork but the product of a glance at the result you posted above. When that diagnosis is made, then treatment can begin.

 Dear doctor, thank you, doctor. I went to do the MRI and Echocardiography as the doctor I saw at a private hospital told me to do. I know you said that if I couldn’t raise the money, I should save what I have now for the treatment that will follow. The echo said I have an enlarged heart. However, my husband was able to get the money and I went for the MRI on Wednesday, but the machine didn’t contain me. I was there from morning till evening, so the white man said I should meet my doctor. When I saw the cardiologist, he said, “What are you doing the MRI for?” I have done blood tests three times already so what should I do again? 0803xxxxxxx

You should not get me wrong: when I said you shouldn’t bother to do the MRI, it was because money seemed to be a problem and the symptoms you described didn’t seem important for that investigation. I am glad that your cardiologist also does not think you need to do it. However, doing blood tests three times does not mean that you are doing the same test; there are hundreds of tests you can do with blood so it is important that you follow his instructions from now on. Good luck.