Squelch the belch with simple tips
By Anthony L. Komaroff, M.D.
DEAR DOCTOR K:
I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I burp -- a lot. Why do I burp more than other people? And what can I do to stop it?
My patients frequently complain about burping. Of course, everybody burps, and with good reason. Belching is a protective mechanism. It prevents the stomach from overinflating. So you need to be able to burp. But if it happens more than you think it should, and it's clearly making you uncomfortable, that's a problem.
Every time you swallow, you take in some air. Some of it travels down the esophagus, the swallowing tube that connects your mouth to your stomach. The swallowed air winds up in the upper part of the stomach.
When the stomach starts to stretch, it sends out signals to the bottom of your esophagus to open a bit. This allows air that has built up in the stomach to escape -- right back up where it came from. And, voila, you belch.
There's no strict definition for how much burping is too much. But it sounds as if you think you're burping too much. So let's look at some common causes of belching and changes you can make.
-- You're swallowing a lot of air. Some people get into a pattern of repeatedly swallowing air and quickly belching it out again. Speech therapists can teach you how to break the habit of swallowing excess air.
-- You're consuming burp-generating beverages. Carbonated beverages -- beer, soda and seltzer -- bring a great deal of extra air into the stomach. Gulping them down or drinking them through a straw just worsens the problem. I tell my patients: Get rid of the straw. Just taking that step solves the problem for some.
-- You're chewing gum or sucking on hard candy. You may be swallowing air without even realizing it. Some sugarless gums or candies cause belching because low-calorie sweeteners can be difficult to digest. I know that dedicated gum chewers and candy suckers can find it hard to stop. One of my gum-chewing patients told me it was as hard to stop as stopping smoking. (Don't get me wrong: There's nothing harmful about chewing gum, and there is plenty harmful about smoking. And chewing gum isn't truly addictive, whereas smoking surely is.)
If you're engaging in any of these behaviors, try stopping them to see if that helps. Also, if you're a fast eater, slow down. Fast eaters swallow more air.
We have a lot more information on belching and too much gas in our Special Health Report, "The Sensitive Gut." You can find out more about it at my website.
When it comes to belching, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. By the time you get the urge to burp, there is relatively little you can do about it. But if you try to change the behaviors outlined above, you may solve the problem.
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Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. Go to his website to send questions and get additional information: www.AskDoctorK.com.
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