What Your Burps Can Reveal About Your Health
While most burping is perfectly normal, it can also be the sign of an underlying medical issue. Find out what your belching can reveal about your overall health and life habits, according to a gastroenterologist.
What do burps mean, anyway?
Burping is the body’s way of ridding itself of excess air. “It’s physiologic,” explains Dr. Dan Sadowski, a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Alberta and an Edmonton-based gastroenterologist. “The stomach has a way of venting excess gas into the esophagus, which in turn makes its way out of the mouth.”
According to Sadowski, a common misconception is that burping is the product of digestion in the stomach—that somehow foods that are being digested produce gas. That, however, is not the case. “Actually, all of the gas that you burp up is swallowed,” he says, adding that simply eating and drinking cause you to swallow air that needs to be released.
Here are some causes of excessive burping—and how to curb them.
You’re chewing gum too often
A 2015 study found that those participants who chewed gum burped significantly more than those who didn’t. That’s because when you chew gum, you swallow some air with each chew. That air ends up in your esophagus, which then exits and causes you to burp, says Sadowski.
This is known as supragastric belching, one of two forms of burping. The other is gastric belching, the release of air from the stomach. It tends to be smellier than supragastric belching and is usually caused by consuming alcohol, high-fat foods, chocolate or peppermint.
You’re drinking a lot of soda or carbonated water
If you’re a soda drinker and find you’re burping excessively, the carbonation in your drink is likely the culprit. Carbonated beverages—which include pop, seltzer, mineral water and beer—add a lot of air to the stomach. And if you drink them with a straw, you’re compounding the problem, as even more air is added to the equation. Artificial sweeteners and caffeinated beverages can also lead to frequent belching.
The solution? Dr. Sadowski recommends you take it easy on carbonated drinks if you’re burp-prone. But if you’re really craving that Diet Coke, pour it into a glass rather than drinking it with a straw—this will cut down on the carbonation.
Find out more sneaky reasons you’ve been so gassy lately.
You’re a fast eater
If you have a habit of putting away your meals in mere minutes, you’re likely swallowing a lot more air than you would if you ate slowly, says Sadowski. Drinking while eating, he adds, can also lead to more air ingestion. “People are eating alone more often—and they tend to eat more quickly,” Sadowski says.
Instead, he suggests eating with friends and family whenever possible. Eating with others encourages you to talk between bites, slowing your pace. If you’re living on your own, consider eating with someone virtually using Zoom or Skype.
These mindful eating tips can also help you adopt a healthier pace.
People who suffer from anxiety tend to take more breaths per minute than those who don’t. They also tend to be shallow breathers, meaning they breathe rapidly from their chest. Breathing in all of that extra air means that they can end up with a supragastric belching issue. “Burping can actually be a manifestation of anxiety,” says Sadowski.
He says that the first line of defense should be an exercise program which can reduce anxiety symptoms and curb overbreathing. Connecting with friends and family can also help. If the anxiety is interfering with daily life, Sadowski suggests seeing a therapist. They may recommend cognitive behavioural therapy, which can make you aware of your breathing. Another option is to find a physiotherapist who can teach you diaphragmatic breathing, or stomach breathing, which can retrain you to breathe normally.
You have indigestion
Indigestion, also known as dyspepsia, affects almost everyone at some point. It can cause excessive belching, as well as stomach pain or burning, bloating, feeling full too early, or being nauseous after meals. Indigestion can be triggered by a greasy or acidic diet, ibuprofen—which can irritate the stomach—or smoking, says Sadowski.
It can be treated with over-the-counter medications that relieve gas, or an H2 blocker that reduces acid. For severe cases, your doctor may prescript proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), a class of drugs that reduce stomach acid levels.
These tried-and-true home remedies for indigestion may also provide relief.
You have gastroesophageal reflux disease
When burping is present with other symptoms, it may signal a medical issue. One common condition is gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It happens when the valve that attaches your esophagus to the stomach fails to close properly, allowing irritating stomach acid to enter and burn your esophagus. GERD can cause heartburn (which can be worse at night), chest pain, swallowing issues, regurgitation of food or liquid, or the sensation you have a lump in your throat. (Find out more signs of acid reflux you might be ignoring.) People burp when they have GERD as they swallow more saliva—and air—to reduce the pain of the acid in their throat, says Sadowski.
If you’ve been diagnosed with GERD, over-the counter heartburn medications, H2 blockers or PPIs can be used.
You have an H. pylori infection
Heliobacter pylori (H. pylori) is a commonly-occurring bacteria than can infect the stomach. It’s estimated that 50 per cent of the world’s population carries around this particular bacteria, which can lead to stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.
In addition to frequent burping, people who develop an H. pylori infection usually experience stomachache, nausea or loss of appetite, a burning pain in the abdomen, bloating and unintentional weight loss. H. pylori can be quickly identified through a blood test or breath test. It’s usually treated via a combination of medications, including antibiotics, for two weeks.
Most burping is perfectly normal
The bottom line is, if you’re experiencing concerning symptoms along with excessive belching—such as unintentional weight loss, trouble swallowing, vomiting, bleeding or severe abdominal pain—seek medical attention, says Sadowski. But burping is “most overwhelmingly a benign condition,” he says. “It may be troublesome, but it usually responds to simple lifestyle measures.”
Next, find out what your farts reveal about your health.