Gas Pain in the Stomach: Symptoms and Relief

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Published: July 26, 2016
Last reviewed: October 3, 2016

What is gas pain?

Gas pain is pain caused by gas trapped in a small part of the bowel in the upper abdomen.

What is trapped gas?

Trapped gas or trapped wind refers to a pocket of gas in the bowel, usually in the part of the colon that runs horizontally below the rib cage. Trapped gas can cause spasms in the colon and the distension of the ligaments that hold the colon in the position, which can both cause severe upper abdominal pain.

Synonyms:

  • Splenic flexure syndrome (the pain on the left side – near the spleen)
  • Hepatic flexure syndrome (the pain on the right side – near the liver)

Causes and Triggers

The two main causes of gas pain are probably eating foods that irritate you and psychological stress.

Trapped gas often occurs in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) [1]. In these and other individuals, the pain can be triggered by:

  • Constipation
  • Emotional stress
  • Air swallowing during drinking through a straw, fast eating or chewing gum
  • Eating foods high in soluble fiber, such as legumes, oatmeal, barley, apples, pears or cabbage
  • Artificial sweeteners sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol and xylitol found in chewing gum and some soft drinks
  • Drinking carbonated drinks or alcohol
  • Pregnancy
  • Drugs: antacids, antibiotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, opiates (morphine, codeine)
  • Supplements: psyllium husk
  • Colonoscopy

Serious health disorders that can be associated with gas pains:

  • Abdominal adhesions, for example, after abdominal surgery or infection or due to endometriosis
  • Diverticulosis or diverticulitis
  • Ileus–temporary absence of bowel motility, usually after surgery or in severe abdominal infection
  • Bowel obstruction by a polyp, for example in Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis or by colon cancer

Symptoms

Trapped wind can occur as a single event or as a recurrent or chronic problem. Symptoms may range from mild discomfort to debilitating pain and include:

  • Constant pain (except at night) in the upper left or right abdomen or lower chest, on the side of the body or in the middle back; it can be aggravated by sitting and deep breathing and may be–sometimes–eased by lying down, burping, passing gas or having a bowel movement [6]
  • Distension (bloating) and tenderness in the upper left or right abdomen

Other symptoms, which may or may not appear along with abdominal pain: referred pain in the tip of the left or right shoulder blade or down the inside of an arm, excessive belching, constipation, diarrhea, excessive gas (flatulence), nausea or dry heaving [6].

Trapped gas by itself does not cause fever.

Diagnosis

A doctor can often make a diagnosis of trapped gas by a simple physical examination. An X-ray image can–sometimes–show an abnormal pocket of gas in the colon.

To exclude other abdominal conditions, abdominal ultrasound, colonoscopy or MRI may be needed.

Differential Diagnosis

If your main symptom is constipation:

  • You may have a sedentary life style
  • You may drink too little water or consume too little insoluble dietary fiber (from whole grains and vegetables)
  • You are under stress

If your main symptoms are abdominal bloating and diarrhea, you may have:

  • Fructose malabsorption
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Food poisoning
  • Allergic reaction to food
  • Infection of the stomach by the bacterium H. pylori
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Celiac disease
  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
  • Diverticulitis

If your main symptoms are abdominal, chest or back pain and nausea, you may have:

Treatment

NOTE: The information about the treatments presented below comes mainly from anecdotal reports and has not been evaluated by clinical studies.

Home Remedies

  • Lying down and relaxing or massaging the painful area with a hand right after the onset of pain may help.
  • Passing gas or having a bowel movement may–sometimes–results in instant relief of pain.
  • Deliberately changing the speed of breathing may result in a temporarily relief.
  • Drinking warm water or hot peppermint or chamomile tea may help move the trapped gas.
  • Applying heat pads may relieve the spasm.

Medications and Procedures

  • Dicyclomine [3], hyoscyamine, propantheline and chlordiazepoxide/clidinium bromide [9] (antispasmodics) can relieve the spasms [3].
  • Mild laxatives, such as magnesium citrate, or enemas, can resolve constipation.
  • Digestive enzymes (lactase, lipase, amylase) can help in individuals with lack of digestive enzymes but not likely in others.
  • Massage (visceral manipulation performed by a physical therapist) may result in prolonged pain relief.
  • Colonoscopy can be done in order to release trapped gas.

Insufficient Evidence

There is no or insufficient evidence about the effectiveness of the following things in relieving gas pain:

  • Simethicone [2,5]
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): aspirin, diclofenac, ibuprofen, naproxen
  • Paracetamol
  • Bismuth salicylate
  • Ginger [8]
  • Activated charcoal [5,7]
  • Stool softeners
  • Apple cider vinegar
  • Turmeric
  • Gripe water (for infant colic pain)

Antacids (calcium carbonate), prokinetic drugs (domperidone, metoclopramide), prebiotics and raw food diet can aggravate symptoms.

Prevention

1. Be Active and Avoid Unnecessary Stress

One of the best things that can bring peace in your life is concentrating on work you feel is right for you. You will then automatically feel the need to avoid anything that distract you from your work goals: certain foods, relationships, habits, passions, memories, etc.

Physical activity often helps with bowel regularity. Walking can be fine; no need to go to the gym.

Maintain a regular eating, working and sleeping pattern.

2. Diet

Try to avoid:

  • Large amounts of foods high in soluble fiber, such as beans and peas, oats, barley, passion fruit, figs, bananas, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, onions, artichokes and sweet potatoes
  • Anything you personally believe may trigger pain: alcohol, caffeine, fried foods or other.

If you are constipated:

  • Eat more foods high in insoluble fiber, such as whole-grain bread and green vegetables (NOTE: in some individuals with IBS, insoluble fiber may aggravate symptoms).
  • Avoid foods that may constipate you: soda, chocolate, deserts, cheese, ice cream, caffeine (coffee, tea, cola), white bread and other foods low in fiber [4].
  • Drink enough water.

If you suffer from abdominal bloating and excessive gas, you may want to try a low-FODMAP diet.

Gluten-free diet helps to individuals with celiac disease but not likely to others.

3. Probiotics

During or after treatment with antibiotics, probiotics help maintain beneficial bacteria in your bowel (intestinal flora) and thus prevent bloating or constipation. Probiotics might not be helpful in other circumstances.

Key Points

  1. Gas pain probably occurs as a reaction to emotional stress and certain foods.
  2. Changing your life style–avoiding unnecessary stress, being physically active, avoiding certain foods and adopting regular eating, working and sleeping pattern–can help.

  • References

      1. Lehrer JK, Irritable bowel syndrome, clinical presentation  Emedicine
      2. Simethicone  Drugs.com
      3. Dicyclomine  Drugs.com
      4. IBS triggers and how to avoid them  WebMD
      5. Gas and gas pains, treatment and drugs  Mayo Clinic
      6. Shafar J, 1965, The splenic flexure syndrome  PubMed Central
      7. Suarez FL et al, 1999, Failure of activated charcoal to reduce the release of gases produced by the colonic flora  PubMed
      8. Ginger  WebMD
      9. Librax (with clidinium)  WebMD

 

3 Responses to Gas Pain in the Stomach: Symptoms and Relief

  1. Laura says:

    This information was so incredibly helpful!!!! I have had severe stomach problems for the past 2 months. I had a C-Scan and an endoscopy at the hospital – neither of them showed too much out of the ordinary. I literally look like I swallowed a basketball and the stomach pain is constant 24/7. My ortho. that I have been seeing for the past 20 years has set me up for an MRI. I hope to God it shows something..anything to explain the incredible stomach distention, enlarged liver, gastritis, severe pancreatitis, etc. Whatever is going on inside my abdominal area is NOT normal, for me or anybody. I just want the constant stomach pain to stop and to look and feel like my old self again.

  2. Joe Minella says:

    I’ve had digestive problems for many years. Long story short- IBS-C. But nobody could offer any help like this page has. I wish I had seen this page years ago! Anyway, the low-FODMAP diet saved my sanity and my life. It’s not a cure, of course. But I can largely live my life as I want without the worst of the symptoms.
    I don’t have any connection, financial or otherwise, with Monash University (creators of this diet) or anybody else. This diet worked for me like a miracle. Be careful, there is SOME misinformation about the diet online from unofficial sources. Plus their research and refinement of the diet is ongoing. They have a e-mail newsletter, an app for your phone, and a twitter: #fodmapchat. Also very educational. Really.

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