Why Does Gas Hurt Sometimes?

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
Sometimes your farts smell, sometimes they're loud, and, yes, sometimes they hurt. But the one thing farts are not (or, at least, shouldn't be) is embarrassing. They're actually a sign that your gastrointestinal system is just doing its thing and processing your food as it should. So why does that totally natural process have to be so painful sometimes?
For starters, everyone with an anus and a set of intestines passes gas from time to time. And there are a ton of totally normal reasons why people fart (e.g. eating fibrous foods or swallowing too much air). And aside from figuring out and avoiding the foods and drinks you know make you a little extra gassy, there's not a whole lot you can do to manage your farts — besides wait for the gas to pass.
Yet we do a lot of hard work to suppress those toots, which can cause that gas can build up in our intestines. In fact, holding in farts is one major cause of gas-related pain. Specifically, sharp, jabbing cramps, as the Mayo Clinic describes them. The cramps don't always show up in the same place, and they can bounce around to different areas in your abdominal region. You might also feel a "knotted" sensation in your belly.
The good news is that it's not usually a huge deal if your gas hurts. As the Mayo Clinic explains, that pain may be a symptom of diarrhea or constipation, because, in those situations, your bowel movements are irregular, meaning your gas isn't flowing freely. But, depending on the cause, those conditions usually pass within a couple of hours or a couple days. What can be a bigger deal is if your "gas pain" is actually something more serious, such as appendicitis or gallstones. (Don't freak: More on this later.)
But you're much more likely to confuse gas pains for menstrual cramps. The key difference with menstrual cramps is that they tend to be more of a dull, throbbing pain that can be intense and spread to your lower back, according to Mayo Clinic. And although you might feel period cramps the whole time you have your period, gas pains usually come on fast and then go away quickly once you poop or fart.
If you're really #blessed, you might have a double-whammy of gas pain and period cramps. That's because, when you're menstruating, changes in your hormone levels are telling your body to push out your uterine lining. But your digestive organs also pick up on the drop in progesterone you experience during your period, which causes you to feel gassier and have to poop more. And again, when your poops are irregular, you're more likely to have out-of-whack gas that hurts too.
When gas pains seem out of the ordinary, it is important to take the time to figure out what's really going on in your tummy. There's always a small chance it could be something more serious than just gas (e.g. the aforementioned appendicitis). You should see a doctor if your abdominal pain is prolonged (say, it doesn't go away after 12 hours or after you've passed gas), if you have chest pain along with your cramps, or if you notice sudden changes in your pooping patterns (such as blood or a significant increase in frequency). And definitely get medical attention ASAP if you have a very sudden and sharp pain that you think might be appendicitis.
But, as annoying and painful as they can be, your gas pains don't usually require you to do anything special — other than simply let them pass. If you find yourself getting gas pains frequently, though, you might want to figure out the foods that tend to give you gas and aim to eat them sparingly. The most common culprits are beans, vegetables, dairy, and carbonated drinks. And, of course, gas pains are another great reminder of why it's so crucial to get over it and just #FreeTheFart.

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