How is excess gas diagnosed?

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Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Gastroenterology
The important thing for a doctor to consider in diagnosing a belching or flatulence problem is whether it's occurring alone or in conjunction with one or more of the various functional gastrointestinal (GI) disorders or a more serious GI illness. He or she should be alert to problems that may suggest organic disease, such as weight loss or anemia. Of course, a physician may be able to determine quickly that the problem is the result of eating too many beans or swallowing too much air. In most cases, evaluating complaints of gassiness will not require extensive diagnostic testing.

To assess your gassiness, your doctor will first question you about your symptoms and dietary patterns. If upper GI symptoms are the major problems, excessive air swallowing may be the culprit. The doctor will ask about possible lactose intolerance as well as habits such as gulping down meals, drinking carbonated beverages, sipping through a straw, chewing gum, smoking cigarettes, or chewing tobacco.

The doctor will also want to know about anxiety and psychological problems that may contribute to air swallowing and predispose people to symptoms, including gas and cramping. Likewise, he or she will want to review the medications you are taking, since some -- especially drugs that are encapsulated with a sorbitol filler -- can induce gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

A distended abdomen can be detected by listening for a hollow sound when tapped. Organic causes of intestinal distension include obstruction of the bowel or fluid or a mass in the abdomen. But other signs usually accompany these more serious problems, and they usually can be readily confirmed by an imaging study such as a computerized axial tomography (CT) scan. Some, such as gastric distension, can be identified with a simple abdominal x-ray. Some doctors may want to run a lactose absorption test or hydrogen breath test to check for lactose intolerance.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.