What is belching?
Belching, or burping, is the expulsion of gas from the esophagus and stomach out through the mouth. As the gas escapes, it produces the characteristic sound known as a burp or belch (eructation). The most common cause of belching is swallowing air.
Swallowing air and belching are natural occurrences that result from eating or drinking too quickly. Chewing gum or drinking carbonated beverages can also introduce air into the stomach and cause belching. Because infants frequently swallow air when feeding, burping or belching is normal after they have been fed. The act of burping an infant helps relieve the discomfort caused by swallowed air.
In addition to swallowed air, many different types of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases can cause belching. Belching may occur with conditions that slow digestion, such as gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), and mechanical obstructions, such as pyloric obstruction (a blockage between the stomach and small intestine). Pregnant women may also experience belching due to hormonal changes that slow the digestive process.
Belching can also arise from conditions that impair the normal digestive process in other ways, such as acid reflux, hiatal hernia, or stomach acid deficiency. In these cases, belching may occur frequently after meals, and it may become chronic.
Belching is rarely associated with a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your belching is associated with severe abdominal pain, chest pain, persistent nausea and vomiting, or high fever.
If your belching is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.
What other symptoms might occur with belching?
Belching may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.
Digestive symptoms that may occur along with belching
Belching may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:
Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating
Change in bowel habits
Nausea with or without vomiting
Other symptoms that may occur along with belching
Excessive belching may accompany symptoms related to other body systems. Belching can occur as a nervous habit and may be associated with generalized symptoms including:
Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition
Belching alone is rarely a sign of a medical emergency. In some cases, however, belching may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:
High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
Severe abdominal pain
What causes belching?
Belching is the expulsion of air from the digestive tract, most often as a normal response to swallowed air in the stomach. Everyday habits and behaviors that encourage the swallowing of air are major causes of belching.
Everyday causes of belching
You may develop belching from swallowed air in various situations including:
- Breathing through your mouth
- Chewing gum
- Drinking carbonated beverages
- Drinking through a straw
- Drinking too fast
- Eating too fast
- Experiencing emotional stress or nervousness
- Wearing poorly fitting dentures
Gastrointestinal causes of belching
Almost any condition affecting the digestive tract can cause belching. These include conditions in which the normal movement or flow in the digestive tract is obstructed, interrupted or delayed. Examples include gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), intestinal obstruction, hiatal hernia, and gastrointestinal reflux disease (also known as GERD).
Belching may occur after eating foods that relax the esophageal sphincter, such as chocolate, fats and mints. In other disorders that lead to belching, the enzymes or processes that are needed to digest food completely are either deficient or absent. Examples include lactose intolerance, food allergy, and gallbladder disease.
Belching can be caused by many conditions affecting the digestive tract including:
- Food intolerance or allergy
- Gallbladder disease
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
- Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying)
- Gastrointestinal reflux disease (also known as GERD)
- Hiatal hernia
- Intestinal obstruction
- Pancreatic disease
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Pyloric obstruction (obstruction between the stomach and small intestine)
- Tumors of the gastrointestinal tract
Serious or life-threatening causes of belching
Belching is a normal body process that is rarely serious in nature. However, in rare cases, belching may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
Questions for diagnosing the cause of belching
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your belching including:
- How long have you experienced belching?
- Does your belching worsen when you consume certain foods or drinks?
- Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with your belching?
- Is your belching becoming worse or more frequent?
Belching is generally a harmless symptom that does not produce long-term complications. However, some of the gastrointestinal conditions associated with belching may have serious complications as a result of the underlying disease rather than the symptom of belching itself. For example, intestinal obstruction due to cancer is a condition that can have long-term and potentially serious or life-threatening complications.