Gas is a normal occurrence that comes after eating. It’s estimated that humans pass gas or burp about 13 to 21 times a day! However, there are a few health occurrences, such as a gas pain in the chest, that can leave you wondering whether it’s normal and whether should you seek medical supervision.
Gas and gas pains are normal occurrences that come from eating and drinking.
Gas pain in the chest is also easy to confuse with pain from a heart attack, so it’s important to learn the symptoms, differentiate between the two, and act quickly in the case of a heart attack.
You should check in with your doctor if you find that your chest pain is particularly intense or comes with other serious symptoms that alter your quality of life.
In this article, we will explain everything you should know about gas pains, how to relieve them, and when it’s time to talk to your doctor.
What is gas pain?
Gas pain is a sudden feeling of tightness or pain in the chest that stems from trapped intestinal gas. The formation of gas is a normal part of the eating and digestion process. When you eat certain foods like carbohydrates, the bacteria that live in your intestine (collectively called the gut microbiome) work to digest them but produce gas as a byproduct.
Gas in your abdomen can also come from the air that you’ve swallowed. Normally, this intestinal gas is passed through belching or flatulence. However, it can also sometimes move up through your digestive system to your chest and become trapped, leading to those sudden gas pains.
Gas pain symptoms
Gas pains are often described as a sharp, jabbing, or tight pain in the chest, though the pain can also sometimes occur in the upper abdomen. You might notice these pains shortly after you eat since this is the time that the bacteria in your intestines are metabolizing food and producing gas.
Gas pains are also often accompanied by other symptoms of gas accumulation, such as:
- Pain and/or bloating in the abdomen.
Generally, gas pains are temporary and can be relieved upon burping or passing gas, which allows the trapped gas to exit your body.
Can gas pain signal a heart attack?
No, gas pain cannot signal a heart attack, but knowing the difference between gas pain and chest pain signaling a heart attack is crucial for acting quickly. Apart from that, they’re two different problems.
Gas pains are described as sharp pain, while heart attack chest pain — is as tightness, squeezing, or heavy pressure. The pain might last for several minutes, or fade away and then return.
Other symptoms of a heart attack that can accompany that chest pain include the following:
- Discomfort or pain in the upper body (arms, shoulders, jaw, neck, or back).
- Shortness of breath.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Lightheadedness or dizziness.
- Breaking out into a cold sweat.
If your chest pain is accompanied by any of these other symptoms or if you otherwise suspect that you may be having a heart attack, it is imperative to call emergency medical services as quickly as you can.
What causes gas pain in the chest?
Occasional gas pains are often normal and often don’t indicate a serious medical problem. Common culprits that cause gas include certain foods, drinks, and medications.
If your body can’t digest certain foods, it may respond by producing excess gas. For example, excess gas is sometimes seen in people with lactose intolerance, as are other gastrointestinal symptoms, like stomach pain and diarrhea.
Carbonated drinks, like soda and beer, get their bubbliness from dissolved carbon dioxide gas. This means that drinking them can often introduce excess gas into your system leading to bloating, belching, passing gas, and gas pain in the chest and abdomen.
Dietary fiber is a nutrient found in plant-based foods that your digestive system can’t metabolize on its own. Instead, fiber is processed by certain bacteria in your gut microbiome, and many of these bacteria also produce gas as a byproduct.
Examples of fiber-rich foods include beans, cruciferous vegetables, and lentils. You might also experience bloating and gas pains if you take a fiber supplement.
Along with other gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, you might also experience bloating and gas as a symptom of food poisoning.
Your gas pains could also stem from the introduction of a new drug or supplement into your regimen. Certain medications are known to cause gas and gas pains as a side effect including antacids, antidiarrheal medications, iron pills, aspirin, and opioids.
Finally, you might also experience chest pains and other symptoms of gas if you swallow a lot of air (this is called aerophagia). For example, you might swallow excess air if you chew gum, drink through a straw, or are talking/laughing.
Medical conditions causing gas pain
So there are plenty of commonplace reasons you might feel gassier than normal. Unfortunately, gas pains can also sometimes be indicative of more serious medical conditions. If you find that you experience gas pains or other symptoms of gas frequently, talk to your doctor to determine whether there’s an underlying health condition that needs to be addressed.
Heartburn happens when your stomach acids that are used to digest food make their way back up through your esophagus. The pain during heartburn can be described as a burning sensation caused by that stomach acid and is not exactly the same as the pain from gas.
However, heartburn can also commonly coincide with gas pains in certain people. For example, if you are prone to eat a large amount of food too quickly and swallowing more air in the process, it can lead to both heartburn and gas pains.
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic and inflammatory digestive condition that can lead to intestinal gas and bloating. In addition, IBS can also cause other painful and/or uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal cramping, pain, and interruption to your regular bowel movements. The same can also apply to other chronic intestinal diseases, like ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and celiac disease.
Your gallbladder is an organ in your abdominal cavity that stores bile, which is a substance that helps your body digest the dietary fat that you eat. People with chronic gallbladder disease may experience inflammation and/or stones in the gallbladder, which can then lead to gas as well as abdominal discomfort and diarrhea if left unchecked. Some patients with gallbladder disease also experience a dull pain in the upper right abdominal area that may coincide or be confused with gas pains.
Acid reflux describes the movement of stomach acids up your esophagus. For example, the feeling of “heartburn” is a major common symptom of acid reflux. But acid reflux, which is often linked to a disease called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) is also linked to other symptoms, like nausea and chest pain.
Diagnosing gas pain in the chest
If your chest pain is a gas pain, you’ll probably find that it subsides over time. You may also find that the gas pains go away immediately after passing gas or burping, both of which release that trapped gas.
However, if your chest pain is also accompanied by other worrying symptoms like pain in the arms or shoulder, sudden exhaustion, dizziness, or shortness of breath, contact a doctor immediately to rule out a heart attack.
How to relieve gas pain in the chest
The simplest way to release trapped gas is to burp or pass gas. You can also try other methods for relieving gas, such as:
- Passing a bowel movement.
- Giving yourself a stomach massage, and applying gentle pressure in a small circular motion.
Home remedies for gas chest pain
Some natural remedies are thought to help alleviate gas, like peppermint oil and cumin according to traditional medicinal practices.
You might also consider using anti-gas and digestive supplements that can help your body better digest those high-fiber foods with less gas production. Examples include Beano and Lactaid (if you are lactose intolerant).
When to see a doctor?
Gas pain is generally normal and not a major health concern. However, you may need to talk to your doctor if your gas pain:
- Last for long periods.
- Accompanied by fever.
- Come with abdominal swelling and tenderness.
- Accompanied by nausea or vomiting that lasts for long periods.