Listen to Your Gut
APRIL 01, 2016
Weirdness in the Stomach
You just drank a soda and let out a few burps. Lunch time is approaching and your stomach starts to growl. You’re riding a rollercoaster and after a big drop, you “lose” your stomach. Have you ever wondered where these noises and sensations in your stomach come from, or when they could indicate a health issue? We’re here to tell you.
Belching or burping is the voluntary or involuntary, and sometimes noisy, release of air from the stomach or mouth. Burping three or four times after eating a meal is normal and is usually caused by swallowing air while you were eating.
“If you notice a sudden onset of excessive burping with other symptoms like pain in the chest or abdomen that seems to last more than a few days, call your doctor,” says Jacqueline Wolf, MD, a gastroenterologist in the Digestive Disease Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “It could be a sign of a medical condition like inflammation of the esophagus due to gastrointestinal reflux, an ulcer or gallbladder problem.”
Let’s be honest, people. Everyone passes gas, but some people produce more gas than others. It is normal to pass gas from six to 20 times a day! Although this may embarrass or annoy you, excess intestinal gas usually is not caused by a serious health condition.
One of the most common causes of gas is swallowed air. If swallowed air is not burped up, it passes through the digestive tract and is released through the anus as flatus. Excessive air swallowing may also cause hiccups.
Other common causes of excessive or increased gas that may lead to bloating (a feeling of fullness in the abdomen) or distention (when your belly gets larger and projects outward) include certain foods and beverages, lactose intolerance, constipation and medicines or nutritional supplements.
Most often, passing gas is a normal part of the digestive process, says Dr. Wolf. But if it comes with other issues like pain in the abdomen or rectum, distension that doesn’t go away, blood in your stool, fatigue, loss of appetite or weight loss, it could indicate a more serious issue.
“People are sometimes embarrassed to talk to their doctor about things like excessive gas, constipation or diarrhea, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard a million times before,” says Dr. Wolf. “It could indicate a larger issue like an infection, Crohn’s disease or narrowing in the bowel, so we’d rather you lay it all out on the table for us so that we can treat you as soon as possible in case it is a more serious condition.”
If asked why your stomach growls, many people would answer, “Because I’m hungry!” This is somewhat of a myth, however. Your stomach may make noise when you’re hungry and lacking food in your stomach, but it can also growl when you’re not hungry and your stomach is full.
“Oftentimes, when your stomach (or bowel) makes noise, you may not hear it at all,” says Dr. Wolf. “The noises are loudest when your stomach and intestines are empty and there is air in the stomach or intestines.”
The rumbling sound in your stomach is the result of muscular contractions of your intestinal wall combined with the presence of liquid and gas. These contractions travel the entire length of your gut, helping to clear out stomach contents, mucus, food particles, bacteria, and other accumulated debris between your meals.
“It’s a perfectly normal function and one that occurs most of the day,” says Dr. Wolf.
Starting a new job or meeting a blind date can cause that ever-familiar “butterflies” in your stomach feeling. Really, what you’re experiencing is stress and anxiety. But where does it come from?
Stress and anxiety activate the stress response. The stress response produces stress hormones in the bloodstream where they bring about specific physiological, psychological, and emotional changes that enhance the body’s ability to deal with a threat — to either fight with or flee from it — which is the reason the stress response is often referred to as the “fight or flight” response (and might explain why some people want to bail on that blind date!).
These hormones can increase the sensitivity of your gut, delay the emptying of the stomach and increase the motility in the colon, causing an urge to have a bowel movement.
In addition, the stress response causes the body’s blood to be shifted away from the stomach to other parts of the body more vital to survival. It also suppresses digestion so that most of the body’s resources are ready to either fight or flee. Finally, the stress response also causes the body’s muscles to tighten, including the body’s stomach muscles.
Imagine this: you’re driving along beautiful country roads on a cool spring day when suddenly, you go over a dip in the road and you feel like your stomach has “dropped.”
The explanation is surprisingly simple — we feel our stomach drop because it actually does!
“Even though everything is connected in our bodies, most of our internal organs are actually free to move around a bit,” says Dr. Wolf.
During a roller coaster ride, or that dip on the country road, every part of your body accelerates at an equal rate, resulting in that cool feeling of weightlessness. The thing is, when you feel weightless during a free fall, so do your organs!
And it’s not just the organs themselves that move, it’s their contents, too. The intestines, the stomach, and the bladder hold liquid, for example, and the movement of that fluid can contribute to a “sinking” feeling.
So, if the thought of a “sinking” stomach makes you feel a little nauseous, maybe you should stay away from the rides and instead try to win your loved one a teddy bear during your next trip to the amusement park.