It's happened to everyone at
least once. In an awkward silence on a date, or during your fifth grade
clarinet solo, or in the middle of a business presentation, your body suddenly
betrays you. You burp. Or your stomach begins to growl and roar. Or worst of
all, you have -- to put it delicately -- an outburst of intestinal
But what causes these noisy,
embarrassing, and sometimes foul-smelling eruptions? And is there a way to
Gas is a great leveler. From
the pauper to the king, from the slovenly frat boy to the prim grandmother,
everyone has intestinal gas.
"We've all got gas, whether we
admit it or not," says C. Mel Wilcox, MD, professor of medicine at the
University of Alabama at Birmingham and spokesman for the American
Gastroenterological Association. "But because everyone is different, some
people have more than others."
According to the National
Institutes of Health, the average person passes intestinal gas 14 times a day
and produces about 1 to 4 pints of the stuff.
That may be more than you
expect. Many people who believe that they are excessively gassy actually have
perfectly ordinary amounts, says Steven Edmundowicz, MD, chief of endoscopy at
Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. However, it may be that
it's just more distressing -- both emotionally and physically -- to some people
than it is to others.
So where does gas come from?
There are two major sources: some comes from air that you swallow and the rest
is a by-product of digestion.
Eating the Air
For the most part, burping is
caused by air that you swallow. Aside from teenage boys engaging in belching
contests, most of us don't swallow air on purpose. But eating air is easier to
do than you might think. You can increase the chances of swallowing air
Drinking through a straw
Sucking on hard candies
Drinking a lot of carbonated
Eating or drinking too quickly
Wearing loose dentures
In addition, any medical
condition that might cause you to swallow frequently can increase the amount of
air you get into your stomach. For instance, allergies or sinus infections that
cause postnasal drip can make you swallow more often. That may increase the
amount of gas in your system.
Edmundowicz tells WebMD that
people with severe heartburn are also likely to swallow air. The natural
reaction to the backwash of stomach acid into the esophagus is to swallow in
order to force the acid back down. The more you swallow, the more air gets into
Some people develop an
unconscious nervous habit of swallowing. "There are a lot of closet air
swallowers out there who don't realize that they're doing it," says