Embarrassing Stomach Issues, Solved

Find out if your gas, grunts and growls are normal and what to do about them.

woman going to restroom, toilet
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Your stomach has many ways of surprising you—causing you to unexpectedly burp during a morning meeting or rush to the bathroom in the middle of a fancy dinner. Most of the time, these stomach mishaps are just part of being human and nothing to worry about. But, sometimes, too much gas or gurgling inside can signal a health problem. We talked to David Bass, MD, a gastroenterologist at North Hills Hospital in North Richland Hills, Texas, to find out what’s really going on with your gut and when to be concerned.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

woman clutching her abdomen from gas pain
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Tooting Too Much?

The problem: Passing gas and burping is pretty common, albeit embarrassing. We all do it. In fact, it’s normal to pass gas 14 times a day. We swallow air whenever we drink through a straw or fuel-up with carbonated beverages, which causes gas; and, eating hard-to-digest fiber-rich foods like legumes, sprouts, cabbage and broccoli also cause gas. The only cure-all for gas is to limit its triggers.

When to be concerned: If you pass gas more than 20 times a day, you may want to see a doctor. You could be lactose or fructose intolerant, says Dr. Bass.

woman taking Imodium pills before a meal to prevent diarrhea
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When You Get the Runs

The problem: Diarrhea—it creeps up unexpectedly. Some people get it after eating rich, indulgent foods. Luckily, there’s something you can do to prevent awkward restroom visits during your next nice dinner and you can still eat what you want: “Take the over-the-counter medicine Imodium just before those rich meals,” says Bass.

Food poisoning can also send you running to the bathroom unexpectedly. Most types of food poisoning get better in two weeks or less. Antibiotics can be prescribed if it lasts longer.

When to be concerned: If severe diarrhea lasts for more than three days, you should see your doctor. Food poisoning could actually cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

woman bent over with stomach pain on couch
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What Your Growling Tummy Is Saying

The problem: A growling tummy may just mean you’re hungry or it could be a symptom of a real health problem. If your stomach growls more often after eating a meal, you may have celiac disease, a pancreatic deficiency, lactose intolerance or even food allergies. “All of them cause that rumbling sound and a bloated feeling,” says Bass.

If you know that it isn't anything serious, you can take an antispasmodic before a meal to reduce the noise.

When to be concerned: If your tummy talks a lot, even when you aren’t hungry, and if you have a fever, lose weight, experience swelling in the hands or feet or develop symptoms of anemia, such as fatigue or dizziness, you should see your doctor.

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Oh that Smell

The problem: Bad breath is usually the result of not brushing thoroughly or eating stinky foods like garlic and onion. For most people, a good teeth scrubbing should take care of the problem.

When to be concerned: If good oral hygiene doesn’t do the trick, or if you’re experiencing other symptoms like unexpected weight loss, a decrease in appetite or nausea and vomiting, you need to see the doctor, says Bass. Persistent bad breath could be a sign of acid reflux, ulcers or gastric outlet obstruction (GOO), which causes a residual buildup of food in your gut, making your breath smell like sulfur, he says. Getting treatment for these stomach issues is the only way to cure bad breath.

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