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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.
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:
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:
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:
A number of different medications may lead to belching or to the disorders that cause belching. These may include:
Excess use of pain medications may cause gastritis, a condition that can cause belching.
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:
Less common causes of belching include:
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.
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:
These may make the problem worse.
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:
These will give your doctor a clear view of your digestive system, which will help them make a diagnosis.
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.
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:
Written by: Kati Blake
Medically reviewed on: Apr 19, 2016: University of Illinois-Chicago, College of Medicine
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