Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital

Gas in Digestive Tract

Gas in the Digestive Tract

Illustration of the anatomy of the digestive system, adult
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What is gas in the digestive tract?

Gas in the digestive tract is created from:

Everyone has gas. It may be uncomfortable and embarrassing, but it is not life-threatening. Gas is eliminated by burping or passing it through the rectum. Most people produce about 1 to 4 pints of gas a day and pass gas about 14 times a day.

Most gas is made up of odorless vapors--carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, and sometimes methane. Bacteria in the large intestine release gases that contain sulfur and produce an unpleasant odor of flatulence.

What causes gas in the digestive tract?

Gas in the digestive tract comes from two sources:

Foods that commonly cause gas
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases most foods that contain carbohydrates can cause gas, however, fats and proteins cause little gas. Foods that cause gas include the following:
  • Raffinose. A complex sugar found in beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, asparagus, other vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Lactose. A natural sugar found in milk and milk products, such as cheese, ice cream, and processed foods, such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing.
  • Fructose. A sugar found in onions, artichokes, pears, and wheat. Fructose is also used as a sweetener in some soft drinks and fruit drinks.
  • Sorbitol. A sugar found naturally in fruits, including apples, pears, peaches, and prunes. Sorbitol is also used as an artificial sweetener in many dietetic foods and sugar-free candies and gums.
  • Starches. Most starches, including potatoes, corn, noodles, and wheat produce gas as they are broken down in the large intestine. (Rice is the only starch that does not cause gas.)
  • Soluble fiber. Fiber that dissolves easily in water and takes on a soft, gel-like texture in the intestines; is found in oat bran, beans, peas, and most fruits.
  • Insoluble fiber. Fiber, such as that found in wheat bran and some vegetables, which passes essentially unchanged through the intestines and produces little gas.

What are the symptoms of gas?

Chronic symptoms caused by too much gas or by a serious disease are rare. The following are the most common symptoms of gas. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

The symptoms of gas may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is gas in the digestive tract diagnosed?

Symptoms of gas may be caused by a serious disorder, which should be determined. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your doctor may suggest the following activities to assist in the diagnosis:

Illustration demonstrating a colonoscopy
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Treatment for gas in the digestive tract

Specific treatment for gas in the digestive tract will be determined by your doctor based on:

Preventing gas in the digestive tract

The most common ways to reduce the discomfort of gas include the following:

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Digestive Disorders


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