Most of us worry that we fart or burp too much, but producing gas is a natural part of our digestive system. We normally get rid of trapped wind either by burping (belching) or by passing wind, called flatulence or farting, which at the wrong time can be acutely embarrassing. If this gas is not released it can lead to pain and bloating (a feeling of fullness) in the stomach.
Trapped wind can be caused by eating more gassy food or drink than normal or may be a symptom of some other digestive illness or medical condition.
Often the trapped wind will resolve by itself, by changing diet or lifestyle or can be helped by home remedies or OTC medicines.1
If trapped wind is bad enough that you can’t lead a normal life, or you're also suffering from other symptoms, such as blood in your poo or weight loss it is important to see your doctor.1
What is trapped wind?
Trapped wind is gas which hasn’t been released from our digestive system. This gas is produced either by swallowing too much air or by the breakdown of certain foods by bacteria in part of the large intestine called the colon. We all produce gas which is mainly made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and carbon dioxide. The average person can make up to a whopping 4 pints of gas a day and can get rid of this gas, by either burping or passing wind up to 23 times a day. Most of the gas we produce does not smell, but if the gas has been produced by bacteria breaking down food in the colon, sulphur can be released which can be very smelly and gives farts their characteristic smell.2
What causes trapped wind?
The causes of trapped wind include diet, lifestyle and some medical conditions or medicines. It is normal for us to produce gas every day, and the amount that we produce will vary considerably from person to person. Trapped wind is only usually a problem when we produce excess gas or get other symptoms such as bloating or trapped wind pain.3 The main causes of trapped wind are:
Eating and drinking too quickly causes trapped wind, as does drinking excess fluid with a meal or eating very hot food. Certain carbohydrate foods are more likely to cause wind whereas proteins and fats rarely cause wind. The foodstuffs that most commonly cause gas are
- Soluble Fibre - in beans, peas, fruits and oat bran
- Sorbitol - a natural fruit sugar which is used as an artificial sweetener in many sugar-free foods
- Fructose - a natural sugar found in vegetables such as onions and artichokes and also in wheat, and is also used as a sweetener
- Raffinose - a complex sugar found in vegetables such as brussel sprouts, cabbage and broccoli2
Fizzy drinks such as beer or carbonated water cause gas because they contain carbon dioxide which is released into the stomach and expelled as a burp or belch.4
Swallowing too much air (aerophagia)
Alongside eating or drinking too quickly we can swallow too much air by chewing gum, wearing dentures that don’t fit properly or smoking. Stress or tension also causes some people to swallow more air than normal.2
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Irritable Bowel Syndrome( IBS) is a common digestive condition which causes belching and bloating. Other symptoms include cramps in the stomach and diarrhoea or constipation. It is not known what causes IBS but it has been linked to family history and oversensitive nerves in the digestive system.5
Lactose is a type of sugar found mostly in dairy products such as milk, cheese and yoghurt. Lactose intolerance is caused by a lack of the enzyme called lactase which breaks down lactose. If lactose is not broken down it stays in the digestive system where bacteria lead to gas production. Alongside bloating and farting, people with lactose intolerance often have abdominal pain, stomach cramp and nausea. Lactose intolerance can be permanent or temporary, depending on the cause needs confirmation by your doctor.6
Symptoms of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) include increased intestinal gas, stomach pain or bloating. The most common IBDs are Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and diverticulitis. These conditions usually have other symptoms such as weight loss or diarrhoea and can not be self-treated. Increased burping can be a sign of excess acid in the stomach. This could be simply overindulgence in alcohol or rich and spicy food or could be a symptom of acid reflux or a stomach ulcer. 1,4
Gastroenteritis ( stomach flu) causes pain and tummy cramps, feeling sick or being sick and watery diarrhoea. People often also get bloating and wind. Viruses, such as norovirus, are usually responsible.7
Whilst pregnancy is not a medical condition the effect of progesterone on your digestive system, especially in the first trimester, can make you more prone to bloating, burping and wind. NHS.UK. Pregnancy
There are some medicines that cause wind including ibuprofen, some laxatives and some statin drugs for high cholesterol. If you think your medicine is the cause, discuss it with your pharmacist.8
What are the symptoms of trapped wind?
The symptoms of trapped wind are burping or belching, farting or flatulence, a noisy or rumbling stomach and bloating. Bloating is caused by excess gas in the bowel. It can often be uncomfortable enough that clothing has to be loosened. Stomach rumbling is caused by the rapid movement of gas and liquid in the gut. Burping is caused by the involuntary release of gas from the stomach, and farting is by the forced release of gas through the bottom.4
How to relieve trapped wind?
Simple methods to relieve trapped wind include:
Home remedies have been used for centuries to relieve trapped wind and include sipping warm water and drinking diluted apple cider vinegar which aids digestion and stops gas building up. Ginger and peppermint (both as supplements or tea) are natural antispasmodics that relax stomach muscles and fennel seeds help to manage trapped wind.9
The main OTC medicine used is simeticone, which is sometimes mixed with an antacid. Simeticone works by combining the small gas bubbles into larger bubbles which pass through the body easier. It is a very safe medicine, works rapidly and has few side effects. and is also used to treat colic in babies and for trapped wind in pregnancy.10 Some people find charcoal tablets helpful, but these are not suitable for all medicines. Charcoal pads and clothing are useful for absorbing smelly flatulence. Dietary supplements such as alpha-galactosidase, can reduce wind, and probiotics, can aid in growing ‘good’ bacteria in your intestine.8
Exercise aids digestion as it quickens the movement of gas through our bodies. A gentle walk or yoga after dinner can be a great way to relieve trapped wind.9
How change in lifestyle behaviours help reduce production of trapped wind?
Lifestyle behaviour changes can really help to reduce the production of trapped wind. We can take time to relax or practice relaxation techniques and make sure that we don't gulp down our food or drink too quickly, especially whilst it is really hot. We can also decrease the fluid we drink with a meal. Cutting down or stopping cigarettes or alcohol will also reduce both gas and the production of trapped wind.
Tips for preventing trapped wind11
- Diet - eat moderate size meals, decrease fatty and spicy food, and avoid fizzy drinks and artificial sweeteners. Don’t rush food or drink and avoid any personal gas-causing foodstuffs, such as brussel sprouts. Limit soluble fibre ( found in beans and fruit) in your diet
- Exercise - have some gentle exercise every day, particularly after food, to aid digestion and relaxation
- Stress - anxiety and tension lead to excessive air swallowing and trapped wind. Find techniques that work to reduce your stress, perhaps exercise, meditation or yoga
- Bad habits - cut down or stop gum chewing and smoking as both lead to excess gas, by swallowing excess air. Get Ill-fitting dentures fixed
- Simple remedies - try some of the home remedies, such as peppermint and ginger, or food supplements. If you are unsure if they are safe with your medicines, you are pregnant or you need advice, discuss with your doctor or pharmacist
- Discuss with your pharmacist whether an OTC such as simeticone, charcoal or peppermint oil would be helpful
When to see a doctor
If you have tried changing your diet and lifestyle and exhausted all self-help and pharmacy treatments, and your symptoms have not improved you should see your doctor. Similarly, if you have lost weight, have constant bloating or stomach ache, have blood in your poo for longer than three weeks, or keep having bouts of diarrhoea or constipation.8
If you develop chest pain, especially with exercise, or have any difficulties swallowing, alongside the burping, you should seek immediate medical help.4
How do we get rid of trapped wind? This is a question we have all asked, maybe after we have embarrassed ourselves by letting rip during a meeting or burping curry or beer into a partner’s face. We can be reassured that passing wind, both by burping or farting, is a natural part of our digestion. If it is an issue, and we do not have other symptoms, such as weight loss, diarrhoea or constipation or blood in poo, there are some simple remedies to try.
Exercise, diet and lifestyle changes are great for decreasing or getting rid of trapped wind. Avoiding spicy or hot foods, certain foods, artificial sweeteners and fizzy drinks can make a big difference, as can taking time to eat and drink. Relaxation and simple exercise, like an after-dinner walk, can help by reducing stress. Giving up or cutting down on smoking and chewing gum helps by reducing swallowed air. Home remedies such as swallowing warm water or drinking ginger or peppermint tea have been proven to help, as have OTC remedies containing simeticone, peppermint oil or charcoal.
If home methods haven’t helped, your doctor can check that there are no underlying medical conditions or food intolerances that might be causing your trapped wind or can change any medication that might be causing the problem.
- Mayo Clinic. 2022. Gas and gas pains - Symptoms and causes. [online] Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gas-and-gas-pains/symptoms-causes/syc-20372709 [Accessed 21 July 2022].
- Gas in the Digestive Tract [Internet]. Hopkinsmedicine.org. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/gas-in-the-digestive-tract.
- Tract S, Health N. Symptoms & Causes of Gas in the Digestive Tract | NIDDK [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/digestive-diseases/gas-digestive-tract/symptoms-causes
- Excessive Burping, Wind, Bloating & Flatulence | Expert Guide | Guts UK [Internet]. Guts UK. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://gutscharity.org.uk/advice-and-information/symptoms/bloating-and-wind/
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) - Symptoms [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs/symptoms/
- Lactose intolerance [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/lactose-intolerance
- Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu) - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378847
- Flatulence causes and treatments [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/stomach-liver-and-gastrointestinal-tract/flatulence#treating-flatulence
- Home remedies for trapped wind [Internet]. Rennie.co.uk. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.rennie.co.uk/
- WindSetlers - Summary of Product Characteristics (SmPC) - (emc) [Internet]. Medicines.org.uk. 2022 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.medicines.org.uk/emc/product/4929/smpc
- JM W, EW C, CG L. Gas, Bloating, and Belching: Approach to Evaluation and Management [Internet]. PubMed. 2019 [cited 21 July 2022]. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30811160/