Pass Gas
July 23, 2010 4:53 AM   Subscribe

My wife and mother-in-law both suffer from the same condition. If they don't eat frequently, they tell me they get 'gas'. Not gas out the ass, but gas in their stomachs / chests that can get quite painful. It is quite debilitating for my wife. When they get this 'gas' if they eat, eventually it will go away on its own or with a bunch of burps. I am not sure if they are calling it 'gas' and should be calling it heartburn, or something else. All I know is my Google-Fu cannot find anything about NOT eating and getting gas or some other painful belly / chest thingy. Anyone else have experience with this kind of ailment. Is there a name for getting 'gas' when you don't eat? Help me solve this medical mystery.
posted by jasondigitized to Health & Fitness (24 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are they referring to "tummy rumbling" as gas? Like how your stomach sort of gurgles when you haven't eaten for awhile? I get that, a lot of people get that, but I don't consider it painful and so I doubt it's what your wife is talking about. Just thought I'd throw it out there so we can cross that off the list.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 4:56 AM on July 23, 2010

Sounds a lot like acid reflux / heartburn to me. It's a little odd that they think they get it if they don't eat, but reflux is triggered by a lot of different things in different people.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:16 AM on July 23, 2010

My mother calls that sort of thing "gas" (she's not American, FWIW) and she means heartburn.
posted by gaspode at 5:32 AM on July 23, 2010

In addition to exploring the medical side of such a complaint dont ignore the significant psychosomatic element to such complaints.

There is a curious condition described in South Asia of 'gola formation' which is associated with either not eating on schedule or eating things which are not a part of ones regular diet. No pathological basis has ever been found. Anecdotally, it can be cured following an exploratory laprotomy (openeing up the abdomen and looking and closing it) which indicates a potential psychological element. It is a kind of a meme which is strong in certain cultures.

Physiologically, acid reflux and tummy rumbling look possible but cant think of a reason for distention.
posted by london302 at 5:45 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

btw, the 'gola' which in local language means something spherical, like a baloon moves to various parts of the body incliding chest and even legs sometimes.
posted by london302 at 5:46 AM on July 23, 2010

I get this, except that I can belch out the air. I find that if I get distracted or am away from food such that I get extremely hungry, but do not consciously notice the hunger, I will begin salivating more than usual and start swallowing air much more than usual. I take these odd, unprompted belches as a sign that I haven't been paying attention to my body's needs. Once I eat, the problem goes away.

So, in my situation, it is not an acute or chronic medical issue, just a body oddity. I try and keep low cal crunchies (veggies, fruit) in easy reach so I can munch on something if this happens during a workday or on a long walk or while travelling.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:09 AM on July 23, 2010

I suspect it's reflux or something similar -- I sometimes get a similar gassy feeling when I haven't eaten in awhile (like, this very moment) and it's worst when I'm suffering through a period of high acid reflux activity.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:14 AM on July 23, 2010

I definitely have problems with an empty stomach. I suffered through years of gastritis from stress as a teenager and it left me with a sensitive stomach lining. No food is not as bad as some hard-to-digest foods. Eating an apple and nothing else is sure to leave me doubled over in pain, although going for too long without eating can cause something similar. I would describe the pain not so much as gassy (although belching can happen) as stabby-- like I've swallowed a clawed beast that is trying to get out. It takes more than skipping a meal to bring this on, however; it takes skipping two or more meals. Zantac is a great help.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

They should check for gallstones.
posted by stormpooper at 6:27 AM on July 23, 2010

Sometimes if I let my hunger get out of control I feel like my stomach starts releasing digestive acids anyhow because it is expecting food. This causes heartburn and a "gassy" feeling in my stomach.
posted by WeekendJen at 6:58 AM on July 23, 2010

My wife had this problem, and was diagnosed with an ulcer. A round of antibiotics cleared it up for good.
posted by MrMoonPie at 7:06 AM on July 23, 2010

Ulcers are quite treatable. Heartburn is treatable, too. Over time, heartburn can damage the esophagus. OTC heartburn remedies help, as well as changes in eating habits. Medical attention is a good idea.
posted by Mom at 8:19 AM on July 23, 2010

For a few years I had a problem with hunger pangs being extremely painful. When I started taking a multivitamin daily two months ago (on medical advice for other reasons), it stopped *immediately*. I haven't been able to find if there's some sort of deficiency that has painful hunger pangs as a symptom, but I plan on bringing it up with my doctor the next time I see her.
posted by telophase at 8:21 AM on July 23, 2010

If I go too long without eating, I sometimes get very painful trapped gas. It won't come out as a burp, though--usually I need to take Gas-X or drink bitters and soda in order to release it. It's really very painful--much, much more than having regular gas. It feels like my intestines are all tangled up or something. I never get it as long as I'm eating regularly.
posted by HotToddy at 8:22 AM on July 23, 2010

This also sounds to me like it could be like a sort of reflux. Start with good old calcium carbonate (Tums), and move to an inhibitor like Prilosec OTC if that fails.

Either way, a visit to a Gastroenterologist and an endoscopy can possibly reveal a lot.
posted by Citrus at 8:29 AM on July 23, 2010

Sometimes if I let my hunger get out of control I feel like my stomach starts releasing digestive acids anyhow because it is expecting food. This causes heartburn and a "gassy" feeling in my stomach.

This is exactly what I came here to say. Lots of people burp from stomach acid when they haven't eaten.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:30 AM on July 23, 2010

I get bloated, painful gas that ends up feeling 'trapped' in the gut if I don't eat on time or exercise on an empty stomach - doctor said it was acid reflux. Alls I know is that I drink a whole lot of peppermint tea and it helps me burp out the gas - it seems to work faster than Zantac/ranitidine.
posted by zennish at 9:49 AM on July 23, 2010

It could be bloating caused by swallowing air. This happens to me a lot, either when I'm nervous or when I'm overly hungry. Taking some simethicone can help break up the big, immovable air bubble in the stomach.
posted by Ouisch at 10:00 AM on July 23, 2010

People either get heartburn or they get this, rarely both. I get it when I eat on the run or while upset. It is gas...large bubbles like those that occur after abdominal surgery. I believe it's related to a reduction in digestive enzymes, which could make sense for your wife and mother-in-law. Heartburn folks don't have a clue how painful it is. It's not a burn but a pressure, like balloons in your abdomen/lower chest pressing on organs/nerves.

After twenty years of getting this about six times a year I've tried everything, from over-the-counter meds to peppermint, walking, yoga, you name it. My boss got it and swore by drinking a soda very fast but that can make it worse, really agonizing, for me. Conscious relaxation and walking bring some relief but if eating at regular intervals would guarantee it never happens I would have an alarm clock implanted in my body to make sure I did it.
posted by Mertonian at 10:22 AM on July 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

Same boat as HotToddy and Zennish. It doesn't happen as much anymore, but I used to get very painful gas when I didn't eat. My stomach would bloat slightly and I would be doubled over in pain. Eating helped a little, but until the gas came out by belching or farting it would hurt for hours. Occasionally it would be accompanied by nausea but I never threw up as a result, just felt dizzy and on the brink of barfing. Nothing helped except eating and time.
posted by Fuego at 11:15 AM on July 23, 2010

Just wanted to say that this 'gas' is a huge deal in my family, and a LOT of West Indian families, actually. Is your wife not from this country?

If I didn't eat breakfast as a child, my grandmother would tell me that I would die of gas. She would say, "drink some tea and tek di gas off yu stomach." It's not a heartburn. It kind of feels like you have to burp but you can't.

Bonus: the cure for 'gas' is ginger ale, ginger tea, or mint tea. Mint tea works the best. All of these things just cause you to burp up the extra air in your stomach.
posted by alice ayres at 11:54 AM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I get this - sometimes I can burp, sometimes I can't, which is incredibly uncomfortable. There is no acid or heartburn pain, just air.
posted by Lyn Never at 12:22 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

No ulcer here, but I do have GERD (reflux) and I also get this kind of painful bloating. If this turns out to be the reason for your wifes or mother-in-law's gas there are some things they can do to reduce/prevent it. But first some background is in order.
  • Heartburn happens quickly; usually within minutes of eating. Gas can happen in minutes but it often takes much longer (hours even.) This is dependant on many factors such as the type and quantity of food, anatomy (not all GI tracts are the same), metabolism, existing digestive disorders and bacterial flora. Even the order in which foods are eaten can affect how much gas occurs and how quickly (more on this important factor later.) So yes, you should be calling it gas and not heartburn.
  • The top gas-forming foods are dried beans, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, turnips and leeks. If you're lactose-intolerant then add milk products to the list. Cooking some of these thoroughly can reduce their impact. This is by no means an exhaustive list; it varies between people.
  • It's not only food that causes gas. The expressions 'hard to swallow,' 'hard to digest,' 'unpalatable' etc. refer not only to the ideas we're considering but also to the stress they cause. That emotional stress has a direct effect on digiestion - the mind goes into 'fight or flight' mode which throttles down both our digestive and elimination functions.
  • Fermentation is often caused when you eat fruits with meals. Fast-fermenting ones such as apples, dates, most citrus fruits and bananas can cause a lot of gas problems when eaten with slower-digesting proteins and complex carbs.
  • Any very hot drink is stressful on the digestive tract. The incidence of esophageal cancer and stomach problems is higher among those who consume very hot drinks on a regular basis.
  • Not all spices are created equal. Top of the ‘bad’ list is chilli. This acts as an intestinal irritant, especially in large amounts, and many people are actually quite allergic to it. If you don’t react well to very ‘hot’ foods, it is quite likely that you are allergic or sensitive to chilli. However, there are other spices which don’t irritate the digestive tract and may even be beneficial. These include cayenne pepper, which contains capsaicin, a known anti-inflammatory agent. Capsaicin has been shown in many studies to reduce inflammation effectively.
  • Smoking can compromise your gut's ability to heal itself. It inhibits prostaglandin production, a 'caretaker' hormone that protects your stomach lining. Smoking can also contribute to ulcers.
Along with all of that background (pulled from various books when researching my own gas and GERD problems) there are some accompanying recommendations:
  • Eat fruits only 30 minutes before or two hours after a meal.
  • Drink plenty of water, but not during meals; avoid hot drinks.
  • Avoid over-eating. Eat little and often.
  • Chew your food well.
  • Choose enzyme-friendly foods, such as papaya, pineapple, sprouted beans and seeds, and fermented foods such as yoghurt.
  • Minimize your intake of gastric irritants such as aspirin, coffee and alcohol.
  • In fact, avoid most NSAID painkillers if possible; they affect digestion.
  • Don’t eat food spiced with chilli on a regular basis.
  • Exercise at least three times a week.
  • Eat during less stressful times of the day.
  • Don't smoke.
Here are a few steps you can take to promote healthy intestinal flora:
  • Eat a more plant-based diet.
  • Eat fermented foods such as yoghurt, cottage cheese, miso, shoyu, sauerkraut and sourdough bread.
  • Take a probiotic supplement containing beneficial strains of bacteria as well as FOS (fructo-oligosaccharides; found in bananas, barley, garlic, onions and soybeans).
To narrow things down in their search for the causes I'd suggest they keep a food journal for the next two weeks, noting what you ate, when, where you ate it, how much, what else you were doing at the time, and how you were feeling. When this is done look through the entries and see if there are obvious patterns - overeating a certain type of food; eating at times of high emotion; eating the common gas-forming foods; a certain food that is always eaten x hours before the gas.

After you've journaled, start by removing the common gas-forming foods listed above as well as any apparent personal gas trigger foods. Decrease your chances of swallowing air by eating slowly and avoiding gum, candy and sodas. Make note of the changes that work, as well as the ones that don't seem to work.

Note for emphasis - Journaling is important so that you dont jump to the wrong conclusions about what the causes are. There can be more than one problem with your diet; seeing the big picture can bring other factors to light. And even if nothing seems evident at first glance in the journal, you'll have more info to bring to your doctor/dietitian. Sorry for the essay. Good luck with it.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:29 PM on July 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

To help with the gas pains themselves, do abdominal massage. Basically you orient your thumb and middle finger like the hands of a clock showing 6:00, with your belly button being the middle of the clock. Then press the thumb and middle finger firmly into your abdomen (about 3/4 inch compression), wiggling them slightly for about 3 or 4 seconds. Move clockwise through the hour positions on the clock doing these wiggling presses until you've done all the 'hours' two or three times. Try to jump to the next hour position fairly quickly so as to keep pressure moving along the natural course of your intestines.

This method of massage has been a revelation for me. Not only for food-related gas, but also for the bloating that CPAP causes. Nothing clears it as fast as this does. It also works for chronic constipation and other elimination ills - there's science behind it too.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:58 PM on July 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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