What Is Gas?

Gas Is A Side Effect Of A Normal, Working Intestinal Tract

Woman Buttoning Jeans
If it is difficult to button your pants after a meal, gas could be to blame. Changing the diet and taking in less air while eating can help, but a certain amount of gas is going to be normal. Image © IAN HOOTON / Getty Images

What Is Gas?

Gas in the digestive system is either air (from the outside environment) or gases produced by bacteria inside the body. It's completely normal, although may people are embarrassed by belching (gas that escapes through the mouth) or flatulence (gas expelled through the rectum).

Gas can be upsetting and embarrassing, but it is a part of the digestive process, like it or not. You have a certain amount of control over how much gas you have, but there's always going to be some.

It's a good thing, actually, it means your digestive system is doing what it is supposed to do: break down foods into the vitamins and minerals that your body needs. 

What Gas Is Made Of

The main components of gas include carbon dioxide, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen. These gases do not give off an odor, but gas that comes from the rectum may also include sulfur-containing compounds, which does have an unpleasant and distinctive scent. Some people also have methane in their flatulence, which is produced in the large intestine during digestion.

Gas In The Stomach

Gas that is found in the stomach can come from swallowing air (called aerophagia). Some air is naturally swallowed during talking and eating, but gulping drinks, chewing gum, or smoking can cause even more air to enter into the esophagus. Much of this gas is released the way it came in -- through the mouth -- as belching, but some does travel through to the stomach and beyond.

Most of this gas is absorbed on its way through the intestines, but some may become flatulence and leave the body through the rectum.

Gas In The Intestines

Flatulence is a byproduct of food that does not get broken down completely by the small intestine. Enzymes and bacteria that do the work of digesting food are present in the digestive tract.

Some foods can not be broken down fully by the enzymes in the small intestine, and are passed into the large intestine. The large intestine contains a number of bacteria that continue the digestive process, but this process creates byproducts -- carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and sometimes methane. These gases are then passed through the rectum as flatulence.

Pain Or Discomfort From Gas

Some people may have gas that causes them discomfort, such as abdominal bloating or distention, and will want to change their diet or lifestyle in order to have less gas. Keep in mind that everyone has gas and must pass it several times a day, but if you feel that you have an excessive amount of gas or it is causing you a disproportionate amount of pain, relay your concerns to your physician.

The Bottom Line

Your body needs to produce gas in order to break down foods. It's an important process, even if it can be troublesome at times. While your body does need to produce gas, eating to reduce the amount of gas you have can help with symptoms of bloating and distention. Most people don't have too much gas, even though it can seem that way. Making some changes in diet and lifestyle can often help, but if bloating is still out of control, consulting a doctor is a good choice.


Clearfield HR. "Intestinal Gas Problems." American College of Gastroenterology 2011. 2 Aug 2013. [PDF]

Continue Reading