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The Digestive System and Gas

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How Are Gas-Related Illnesses Diagnosed?

Since diet is the main cause of gas, your health care provider will want to know about the foods you eat and your symptoms. He or she may ask you to keep a record of what you eat and drink to help identify offending foods. You may also be asked to keep track of how many times a day you pass gas.

You may have to eliminate certain foods from your diet. For example, if lactose intolerance (lactose is a type of sugar found in milk products) is suspected of causing the gas, you will probably have to limit your consumption of dairy products. 

If bloating is a problem, your health care provider may examine your abdomen for the sound of fluid movement to rule out ascites (buildup of fluid in the abdomen) and for signs of inflammation to rule out certain diseases of the colon.

The possibility of colon cancer is usually considered in people age 50 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 symptoms like unexplained weight loss, diarrhea, or blood in the stool.

For those with chronic belching, your 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.

What Are the Treatments for Gas?

Gas problems are treated by changing your diet and by training yourself to swallow less air. There are also prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications that can help reduce gas.

Changing your diet will mean eliminating the foods that cause gas. Unfortunately, this may also result in the elimination of nutritious foods. Ask your health care provider or a dietician to help you construct a diet that is healthy but doesn't cause excessive gas. 

Over-the-counter medications can also relieve gas symptoms, including:

  • Antacids -- especially those that contain simethicone
  • Probiotics -- used to help kill bad bacteria and add good bacteria to the digestive tract
  • Lactase products such as Lactaid and Dairy Ease -- may help people with lactose intolerance
  • Beano -- contains the enzyme that helps digest sugars in beans and many other vegetables

Some people have a digestive disorder in which the normal movement of the gastrointestinal tract is limited (motility disorder), such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Your doctor may prescribe certain drugs to help move food through your digestive system. Drugs that improve the motility of the digestive tract, such as Reglan, may move gas through the digestive tract more quickly.

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