I have personally treated may patients who sought medical attention because they felt like they had gas pains in chest. However, when you feel you have gas pain in the chest, it not always caused by the actual presence of gas in your chest. It is important to rule out other more serious problems when you feel like you have gas pains in your chest. However, if you are certain that your gas pain in chest is actually caused by gas, you can skip the rest of the article and proceed directly to that section.
Gas pains in chest: Could it be your heart?
Pain originating from your heart can be very non-specific. Your heart does not have direct pain sensors like the ones present in your skin or your muscles. When there is a lack of oxygen in your heart muscles, the resulting distress signal reaches your brain in a highly complex manner. You cannot pin point the source of the discomfort. Out of the many ways a heart attack can present, feeling of “gas” or “indigestion” in the chest is a relatively common one. In the right setting, a heart attack can feel like gas pains in chest. The nerves coming out of your heart and your digestive tract share a common pathway when they travel to your brain. The feeling of heaviness and pressure caused by the lack of oxygen in heart muscles can feel like gas and bloating inside your chest. If you feel like you have gas pains in chest, you need to think about the possibility of a heart attack. If you have risk factors for a heart attack, you need to seek medical attention right away. Here are some specific situations where a gas pain in chest could represent heart attack.
1. Gas pain in chest with previous history of heart attack:
Many people with history of heart attacks, present with similar symptoms when they have another heart attack. If your first heart attack felt like gas pains in chest, you need to take it seriously. When you have the exact same feeling, you need to go to the nearest ER right away to get it checked.
2. New abrupt onset gas pain in chest:
The onset of a symptom can be very valuable in trying to figure out its cause. If the gas pains in chest appeared suddenly out of nowhere, you need to be concerned about the possibility of a heart attack. It is especially true if you do not normally get gas pains in the chest or if this particular gas pain in your chest feel different than your usual pain.
3. Gas pains in chest associated with sweating, palpitation or shortness of breath:
When you have lack of oxygen in your heart muscles, you may have symptoms other than pain or discomfort. Those symptoms could be a signal of bodily distress. Our body has an inherent ability to sense danger and respond accordingly. This danger may be intrinsic or extrinsic. Our body responds to danger or stress with a “fight or flight” response. When you encounter a danger on the outside, your heart rate goes up, your pupils get larger, and you breathe faster. This is how your body prepares you to face the danger. When the danger is inside your body, it also activates a similar response. You may sweat a lot, feel your heart beating faster, and start breathing faster. If you sense this type of stress signal while you have gas pains in your chest, you need to get help right away. 4. Gas pain in chest with walking: When you get gas pain in your chest every time you walk a certain distance, you need to be thinking about possible angina. Stable angina is pain originating from your heart as a result of lack of oxygen. With stable angina, your heart gets enough oxygen to function normally at rest. When you start walking or exerting yourself, it reaches a point when your coronary arteries cannot supply your heart with enough oxygen to match the increasing demand. As a result, you start to get pain or discomfort in your chest if you keep moving any farther. The pain usually goes away in less than five minutes if you take a rest. With stable angina, the distance you can walk before you get the chest discomfort is predictable and this is a very specific characteristic of stable angina. If you have gas pain in chest every time you walk a certain distance and it goes away with rest, it is likely that you may be having a form of stable angina. You need to call your doctor and get it checked out as soon as possible.
Gas pains in chest: Diseases of the food pipe
There are several conditions of your food pipe that can give you a sensation of having gas pain in chest. Many of them are not actually caused by excess gas. The gas pain in chest caused by problems of the food pipe can be very similar to gas pain caused by heart problems. In many cases, it is important to exclude heart related causes before looking for problems in the food-pipe.
Oversensitive food-pipe is a common cause of gas pain in chest. Oversensitive food-pipe may make you feel very uncomfortable form even mild acid reflux. It can also make you feel distended with passage of food. It may also be sensitive to temperature. Hot or cold food may lead to a sensation of irritation and bloating that can last for quite a while. It can certainly make you feel like you have excess gas in your chest.
Acid reflux from stomach is another important cause of gas pain in chest. Hydrochloric acid is produced in the stomach to help digest the food you eat. This acid can flow backwards and climb up your food-pipe. It can irritate and burn the inner lining of your food-pipe. That burning and irritation can feel like pressure and bloating from gas.
The nerve supply of our digestive tract is very complex. Unlike the sensation from our skin, the sensation from our internal organs is not always what it feels like. If we could feel everything exactly as it happened in our inner organs, that would not be very pleasant. This is why acid burning (very unpleasant) may feel like gas distention (less unpleasant).
Treatment with a strong dose of acid reducing medication for at least 4-6 weeks is used to confirm the diagnosis of gas pain in chest from acid reflux. If your symptoms improve with the treatment, it is the likely diagnosis. If your symptoms do not improve, you will need additional testing and specialist referral to investigate further.
For gas pain in chest due to oversensitive food-pipe, acid-reducing medication is still the most helpful treatment. The major irritating factor that causes gas pain in chest of patients with sensitive food-pipe is acid from the stomach. Even small amounts of otherwise normal reflux of acid from the stomach can cause severe distress in people with sensitive food-pipe. Other than taking acid reducing medication, they can avoid eating food that is too hot or too cold. They can keep a journal of what food makes them feel like they have gas pain in chest and try to avoid those.
Gas pain in chest: Actual retention of gas in the digestive tract
Some of you do have gas pain in chest due to over-retention of gas in your digestive tract. You may not feel it but all of us swallow some air when we eat. It is normal to have about 200 ml of gas in the digestive tract. Most of that is nitrogen from the air we swallow. Rest of the gas is produced in the intestine during digestion of food. There are certain foods that can produce more gas than others.
Bloating and gas pain in the chest can be from retention of gas in the food pipe or stomach. This type of gas pain in chest is usually, but not always, associated with belching. If your gas pain in chest gets better after you belch, it is likely that your gas pain was actually caused by gas in your food pipe. Certain foods help relax the lower portion of food pipe and facilitate the flow of gases from stomach back to the food pipe where it can build pressure and cause gas pain in chest. Examples of such food include chocolate, fat and mint. If you are fairly certain that your gas pain in chest is actually caused by gas retention, you can apply three basic home remedies to treat your gas pain.
- Swallow less gas
- Avoid foods that produce too much gas
- Prevent gas from coming back to food-pipe from stomach
When you gulp your food or drink, you swallow more air. Eat more slowly and sip your drinks to avoid too much air swallowing. At times, you may be involuntarily swallowing air even when you are not eating. This behavior can occur, with or without your notice, while you are anxious or under stress. If you have frequent belching associated with gas pain in chest, pay close attention to your mouth and your throat to make sure you are not swallowing air when nervous. You may be doing it while swallowing saliva or just swallowing air. You may also be swallowing air while you are chewing gum, drinking with a straw or drinking from a water fountain. Pay close attention during those activities to make sure you are not swallowing too much air. In some cases, you may need treatment for your anxiety if you are unable to stop swallowing too much air.
Carbonated beverages are one of the most common sources of food that contain air. Normally, that air comes out when you belch but if it gets trapped in your stomach or food pipe, it can cause gas pain. It is true that carbonated beverages induce belching in some people and that helps them get rid of the excess gas. However, it is better not to have too much gas in the stomach in the first place. Other foods that produce too much gas can vary with individual. Some people have decreased ability to digest certain carbohydrates. Some may have trouble digesting carbohydrate from milk while others may have problem with certain legumes. If certain food causes too much gas in your digestive tract, you can avoid gas pain in chest by avoiding those foods.
As I said earlier, it is better to avoid getting too much gas in the stomach in the first place. However, you can prevent gas symptoms in your chest by preventing too much gas from coming up to your food-pipe from your stomach. You can avoid such foods as chocolate, fat and mint to accomplish that.
Sometimes, your gas pain in chest from too much gas can be worsened if you have too much acid in your stomach. You can try some antacids or acid reducing medications to see if that might help you. You can also try over the counter gas reducing medications such as Gas X or Beano to help reduce your gas. Gas X has a compound called simethicone and it is supposed to break gas bubbles but its practical efficacy is unclear. Beano has an enzyme that might help breakdown some undigested food. They may or may not help you but you can try them, as they do not have any major side effects.