July 2, 2023/Digestive

Can Gas Cause Chest Pain?

When it can’t pass down south, gas can definitely travel — and get trapped — up north

person clutching chest

The short answer is yes.

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When it’s trapped in your upper abdomen, backed-up intestinal gas can cause intense chest pain. In fact, some people may wonder if they’re having a heart attack and not just needing to fart.

Fortunately, while chest pain can signal a real emergency, there are ways to tell the difference, as well as options for finding relief.

Gastroenterologist Christine Lee, MD, offers some guidance.

How can gas make my chest hurt?

On the long and winding road that is your digestive system, there are only two spots where gas can get out. When it sneaks out of the southern port, we call it a fart. When it heads up north, that’s a burp or a belch.

It’s all part of the digestive process, and it generally proceeds without much fuss.

But that’s not always the case. Sometimes, that gas gets trapped, says Dr. Lee, “And if, for whatever reason, you haven’t been able to pass it from below, it can travel north and end up as chest discomfort.”

What does gas-induced chest pain feel like?

Every person’s experience of pain can be different, notes Dr. Lee. That makes it hard to say with certainty how gas pain might feel to you.

With that warning in mind, common signs of gas accumulation in your chest might include:

  • A feeling of pressure or tightness on either the left or the right side of your chest.
  • Sharp, jabbing pain in your chest or upper abdomen.
  • Swelling or bloating in your abdomen.
  • Voluntary or involuntary farting and/or belching.

Most times, gas pains occur in response to something you ate or drank, like:

Other potential causes of gas pains include medical conditions like:

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How can I tell if it’s gas pain or a heart attack?

Most times, chest pains caused by gas from something you ate or drank occur post eating or drinking, and burping or farting bring immediate relief.

A heart attack, on the other hand, is a lot more serious. But, again, because everyone experiences pain differently, it can be very hard to tell the difference between the two.

Here are some of the “early warning” signs of a heart attack — but beware: Heart attack signs can vary widely, from crushing pain to no pain at all:

  • Pressure or tightness in your chest.
  • Pain in your arm, jaw, neck or back.
  • Cold sweats.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Unusual fatigue.
  • Exertional in nature

If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911 for immediate medical attention.

In fact, any time you experience chest pain, states Dr. Lee, caution must prevail. “I can give you the textbook description of a heart attack, but unfortunately, that’s not always the norm. Some people have no pain with a heart attack. Others, say, might just feel a tingling in their left arm.

“So, if a cardiology textbook can’t explain chest pain for everyone, there is no way to explain gas pain for everyone — because what feels like gas pain to one person might feel like a heart attack to another.”

How can I get rid of the gas trapped in my chest?

The most direct way to relieve trapped gas is to let it out, by way of burping or farting.

Try one or more of these tips to encourage the gas to move on:

  • Gentle exercise, including walking or yoga, can relax your gut and help move the gas through your digestive system.
  • Pooping (or having a bowel movement) can help dispel intestinal gas.
  • Ginger has been shown to prevent bloating and gas. Try eating a piece of candied ginger, drinking a cup of ginger tea or even drinking some warm water with a sprinkling of powdered ginger on top.
  • Apply a heating pad or hot water bottle to your tummy to help relax your gut.
  • Try a gentle abdominal self-massage.
  • If your healthcare provider agrees, try an over-the-counter remedy containing simethicone, which is found in several popular stomach medications.
  • Avoid medications that slow down your gut (like narcotics, pain medications and some allergy medications).

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Tips for reducing future ‘gas attacks’

To reduce the chances of excess gas buildup and future bouts of gas pain, consider these tips:

  • Reduce the amount of hard-to-digest foods in your diet. That might mean reducing portion sizes or limiting how often you eat things like beans, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, onions, garlic, dairy products and foods containing artificial sweeteners.
  • Reduce the number of carbonated beverages in your diet, including carbonated water, soda and beer.
  • If you know you can’t tolerate foods containing lactose or gluten, try to eliminate them from your diet. A dietitian or other healthcare provider can help.
  • Minimize the air you swallow by avoiding the use of drinking straws, eliminating smoking, limiting chewing gum and reducing how much you talk while you eat.
  • Review your medications with your doctor if you think they may be contributing to your gas.
  • Stay hydrated and move your bowels regularly to limit the buildup of gas-producing bacteria.
  • Exercise regularly and avoid prolonged sitting to keep your digestive tract moving smoothly.

When to see a healthcare provider

Dr. Lee says it comes down to this: “Prevention is always easier than treatment.”

Whether your chest pain is a sign of heart disease, the result of colorectal cancer or just because you ate too much broccoli, she recommends a prompt conversation with your healthcare provider.

“I’m very conservative,” she continues, “but the sooner you get a diagnosis for what’s causing your pain, the more options you have. The earlier the diagnosis, the easier it is to treat, or even to cure, the problem. But if you wait too long, you might no longer be able to cure it — you might just have to concentrate on not letting things get worse.”

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