9 Things Your Burps Can Tell You About Your Health

Everybody burps, but excessive burping could signal something more serious.

Nauseous woman regurgitating from rumination syndrome in mirror
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/Getty Images

Everybody burps, but if yours are frequent or super smelly, does it mean you have a problem?

"Burping is a very benign symptom," assured Rebecca Tsang, MD, MPH, a gastroenterologist at NorthShore University Health System in Evanston, Illinois.

Yes, it can be bothersome–and potentially embarrassing–at times. But Dr. Tsang said burping is usually not a sign of something serious unless it's accompanied by other gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms.

Here's a translation of what your burps and belches might be trying to tell you.

You Just Finished a Huge Meal

Groaningly large meals are a recipe for gastrointestinal distress, including excessive burping.

According to the Australian Academy of Science, a normal adult stomach can comfortably hold 1 liter of food and liquid in a meal. If you go for extra helpings, your stomach will expand to make room for the feast–but only so far. For most people, maximum capacity tops out at 4 liters. That's around a gallon of food!

"When you eat larger meals, you're increasing the pressure in your stomach," explained Dr. Tsang. "The gas in your stomach has nowhere to go but up into the esophagus and then out of your mouth."

You're Eating Way Too Fast

It's normal to ingest some air when you're eating. But if you're eating too quickly–or eating and gabbing simultaneously–you could be swallowing more air than usual. And that can make you burp a lot, explained Michelle Honda, PhD, a holistic doctor in private practice in Ontario and author of the book Reverse Gut Diseases Naturally. Eating more slowly can reduce those noisy interruptions, Dr. Honda said.

You're Sucking in Excess Air

Even if you eat slowly and mindfully, you could be swallowing excess air­–and burping a lot–for other reasons. According to UpToDate, the medical term for this type of bloating and belching is aerophagia. Many things can cause it, like chewing gum, smoking, or even hyperventilating due to anxiety. People who experience sleep apnea and also wear a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine as they snooze to prevent airway collapse may also experience aerophagia as a side effect.

"A lot of musicians come to see me for burping," added Dr. Tsang. When they play their woodwind or brass instruments, "they end up swallowing a lot of air too, because they're taking a lot of breaths."

You're Eating Your Veggies

Foods–even healthy ones–can produce gas during digestion. Certain sugars, starches, and fibrous foods can make you burp a lot.

Your burps can be particularly foul if you're eating foods with sulfur-containing compounds, including legumes, broccoli, and other cruciferous vegetables. Other likely offenders include eggs, meat, and fish.

"It gives your burps that rotten egg smell," Honda explained. The stench itself is harmless, Dr. Honda added, although excessive burping could signal an underlying digestive problem. For example, people who are lactose intolerant have trouble digesting lactose, a type of sugar in milk and other dairy products. Undigested lactose moves straight to the colon in these folks, where bacteria go to town, producing gasses that cause burps, farts, and bloating.

You Love a Good Bubbly Beverage

If you have a serious seltzer habit–or appreciate a couple of beers–you might be belching simply because of those delightfully fizzy beverages. They contain carbon dioxide, a colorless gas that's safe to ingest but can bring about constant burping, Honda said.

You Could Have IBS

If you're burping alongside other GI symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, and constipation or diarrhea (or both), it could be irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

This chronic disorder, which affects women more often than men, is commonly associated with the need to pass frequent gas. However, a small study published in 2017 in the Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility found that repetitive belching is a frequent symptom too. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have ongoing symptoms. They may be able to suggest diet changes, medications, or other therapies that can help.

You Might Be Dealing With Acid Reflux

When burping goes hand-in-hand with heartburn, acid reflux may be to blame. Reflux occurs when stomach contents back up into the esophagus. (Chronic acid reflux is known as GERD.) According to UpToDate, other common symptoms include difficulty swallowing, upper abdominal or chest pain, hoarseness, and feeling like you have a lump in your throat.

Honda has seen patients with heartburn who gulp excessive amounts of coffee, sometimes 10 or 12 cups a day. A habit like that can aggravate reflux and burping, Dr. Honda explained, because the acidity in coffee irritates the ring of muscle that's supposed to tighten to prevent stomach juices from entering the esophagus.

Try limiting caffeine, alcohol, and spicy and fatty foods, as well as eating several smaller meals rather than a big breakfast, lunch, and dinner to see if you can improve your GERD symptoms.

You May Have a Case of Gastritis

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, burping could also be a symptom of a type of tummy trouble called gastritis–inflammation of the stomach lining–especially if you have upper belly pain, nausea or vomiting, indigestion, or loss of appetite.

Per MedlinePlus, things that can irritate your stomach lining include infection, too much alcohol, spicy foods, smoking, and long-term use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers. Talk to a healthcare provider about your symptoms to identify the best course of treatment.

You Could Have Rumination Syndrome

If you burp and end up regurgitating a bit of undigested food into your mouth, you could have something called rumination syndrome.

According to UpToDate, people with this condition spit up undigested or partially digested food into their mouths after most meals, then chew or spit it out. It's thought to be an unconscious habit involving contraction of muscles around the abdomen.

Rumination syndrome can affect people of all ages and has been associated with certain conditions such as anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Talk to a healthcare professional about your symptoms; psychologists can teach patients techniques for before and after meals that can help keep rumination syndrome at bay.

While burping is both natural and common, excessive burping—especially if accompanied by other symptoms—could signal an underlying health issue. If you have any concerns about your burps, talk to your healthcare provider about it.

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