Belching is the act of expelling air from the stomach through the mouth. It usually occurs when the stomach distends, or expands because of too much swallowed air. Belching releases the air to reduce the distention. Other names for belching include burping and eructation.
What causes belching? Belching occurs when the stomach fills with swallowed air. There are a number of reasons why more air than normal may be swallowed. The most common reasons are:
- eating or drinking too quickly
- drinking carbonated drinks
Babies and young children may swallow large amounts of air without realizing it. Babies are burped shortly after drinking breast milk or formula to expel the excess air that was swallowed during feeding.
It’s possible to belch when the stomach is not full of air. This is usually because belching has become a habit or a tool for reducing abdominal discomfort. Belching will only relieve discomfort associated with swallowing air. But it’s not uncommon for people to try to relieve other abdominal discomforts in the same way.
Aerophagia: Is the voluntary or involuntary swallowing of air. Swallowing excessive amounts of air can happen when eating or drinking too quickly. It can also occur when:
- talking and eating at the same time
- chewing gum
- sucking on hard candies
- drinking through a straw
- wearing poorly fitted dentures
- having an anxiety attack
- breathing through your nose
Foods: Some foods and drinks can also cause more frequent belching. These include carbonated drinks, alcohol, and foods high in starch, sugar, or fiber that cause gas. Common culprits include:
- whole-wheat bread
Medications: A number of different medications may lead to belching or to the disorders that cause belching. These may include:
- a common type 2 diabetes medication called acarbose
- laxatives, such as lactulose and sorbitol
- pain medications, such as naproxen, ibuprofen, and aspirin
Excess use of pain medications may cause gastritis, a condition that can cause belching.
Conditions: Some medical conditions may also cause belching as a symptom. However, as belching is a natural response to abdominal discomfort, there must be other symptoms present to make a diagnosis.
Conditions that may cause belching include:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): a disorder that causes acid from the stomach to flow upward into the esophagus, or food pipe
- gastroparesis: a disorder in which the muscles in your stomach wall are weakened
- gastritis: a disorder that causes inflammation of the stomach lining
- peptic ulcers: sores on the esophagus, stomach, and upper part of your small intestine
- lactose intolerance: inability to properly digest lactose, an ingredient found in dairy products
- fructose or sorbitol malabsorption: inability to properly digest the carbohydrates fructose and sorbitol
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori): bacteria that cause stomach infections, which can increase belching
Less common causes of belching include:
- celiac disease: an intolerance to gluten, an ingredient found in many flour-rich foods like breads and crackers
- dumping syndrome: a disorder that causes your stomach to empty before its contents have been properly digested
- pancreatic insufficiency: occurs when the pancreas is not able to release enzymes needed for digestion
Emergency issues: Belching as a single symptom is not usually cause for concern unless it’s frequent or excessive. However, if your stomach has been distended for a long period and belching does not relieve the distention, or if the abdominal pain is severe, seek medical attention immediately.
How is belching treated?
Normal belching does not require any treatment. However, if belching becomes excessive, you should contact a medical professional to explore possible conditions that may be causing the problem. Treatment will depend on the cause.
If you’re belching excessively or if your stomach is distended and you cannot expel the air, lying on your side usually helps. Adopting a knees-to-chest position can also be helpful. Hold the position until the gas passes.
If you often experience belching, you should avoid:
- eating and drinking quickly
- drinking carbonated beverages
- chewing gum
These may make the problem worse.
Medical care: If your belching has become excessive, it’s important to speak with your doctor. Your doctor will gather information on your symptoms by asking questions about when the excessive belching began and if it has happened before. They will also ask about patterns, such as whether the belching occurs due to nervousness or after consuming a particular food or drink. They may also ask you to keep a food diary for a few days.
Make sure you mention any other symptoms you have, even if you don’t think that they’re relevant. This will help your doctor build a full picture of the problem, which will help him or her find the most likely solution.
Your doctor may examine you physically and could order further tests such as abdominal X-rays or gastric emptying studies. Other tests include:
- MRI scans
- CT scans
- ultrasound scans
- maldigestion tests
- hydrogen and methane tests
These will give your doctor a clear view of your digestive system, which will help them make a diagnosis.
What are the consequences of leaving belching untreated?
Normal belching does not require any treatment and has no consequences.
However, if belching has become more frequent due to a digestive system problem, it’s possible that the symptoms will worsen if left untreated. You may also begin to experience other symptoms until the problem is diagnosed and treated.
How can belching be prevented?
Belching is a natural action. You can control it by avoiding items that are likely to make you belch. If you want to prevent belching, you should:
- Sit down and eat each meal slowly.
- Avoid chewing gum or sucking on hard candies.
- Avoid carbonated beverages and alcohol.
- Stop consuming any foods or drinks that make belching more frequent.
- Take probiotic supplements to aid in digestion.
- Avoid anxiety-inducing situations that may cause hyperventilation.