‘To burp or not to burp, that is the question.’ The simple act of burping can put you in a spot sometimes. Should you just let it out loud, the noise from the stomach or should you suppress it? Well, that depends on where you are at.
Burping has multiple connotations across the globe. While in some cultures, it is a marker that you’ve had a hearty meal, in some other places, it is considered rude and could land you in trouble.
While we all let out burps every once in a while, little have we pondered about what this phenomenon is all about.
What are burps?
Burping is a normal physiological process in which the excess gases which are produced in the stomach are expelled out of the body through the mouth, says Dr Ksheetij Kothari, a Pune-based gastroenterologist.
“Burping, also known as belching or eructation, can happen both involuntarily and voluntarily,” adds Dr Rajesh Pendlimari, surgical gastroenterologist, Expert Clinics, Bengaluru, and a visiting consultant at Manipal hospital, Whitefield, Bengaluru.
Why stomach burps?
Gases are produced in the stomach during the reaction of acid and food. The excess gas is pushed back through the mouth, says Dr Kothari.
Elaborating on the other causes of burping, he says, “when a person is eating and drinking hurriedly, air enters the mouth and travels through the oesophagus, into the stomach.”
On the same lines, Dr Pendlimari adds, “most of the gas is absorbed by the stomach, while some of it escapes. Letting the excess gas out makes us feel relieved of any discomfort.”
What foods can increase burps?
“Consumption of food and drinks containing soda, like papad, can induce burping. The soda reacts with the acids in the stomach, producing carbon dioxide, which is expelled. Aerated drinks like cold drinks and beer contain carbon dioxide and produce burps,” says Dr Kothari.
While high-fibre foods are considered an indispensable part of a balanced diet, they can play spoilsport when it comes to burping.
“Legumes like beans, peas, lentils, certain fruits and vegetables like broccoli, apple, tomato, are also sources of excessive gas in the stomach,” adds Dr Kothari. He also mentions that the occurrence and extent of burps are subjective and depend on the biochemistry of a person.
Are burps normal?
According to Dr Kothari, burping is less likely to be an indicator of an underlying problem. “It is not an alarm feature of any organic diseases. The social stigma associated with burping is what makes the person conscious.”
Dr Pendlimari says that while letting out three to four burps post a heavy meal is normal, excessive burping needs to be examined. He opines that frequent burps not in connection with meals can be abnormal. It indicates some inflammation in the stomach called gastritis.
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“People experiencing excessive burping need to undergo an upper GI (gastrointestinal) endoscopy to identify the cause and severity of gastritis. Many people take proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), which are available over the counter. It may give temporary relief against burping, but usually, the burps tend to return,” says Dr Pendlimari.
How are burps different from hiccups?
Differentiating between burps and hiccups, Dr Pendlimari says, “hiccups are sudden, violent, involuntary contractions of the diaphragm. Burping is purely stomach related where the excess gas in the stomach tries to escape.”
While the cause of hiccups can range from benign factors to underlying neurological, liver or stomach ailments, burping is solely a stomach-related issue, he adds.
Burps in babies
While adults commonly associate burps with stigma and defiance of social etiquette, babies are made to burp after every feeding session.
According to Dr Suvarna Naik, a Goa-based paediatrician and neonatologist, babies tend to ingest air while being fed. This build-up of gas can cause abdominal distention (expansion of the abdomen), colic (intense crying), and regurgitation. This can cause abdominal pain and discomfort. Burping can help get rid of the accumulation of gas in the baby’s stomach.
According to UNICEF, crying, arched back, drawing legs into the tummy or clenching the fists are signs of trapped gas in a baby.
Elaborating on how to induce burps in the baby, Dr Naik says “hold the baby upright, with the baby’s head resting on your shoulder. Pat the back with your other hand.” Burps can also be induced by placing the baby in the prone position (on their stomach) on the lap or making them sit on the lap and patting their back gently.
Animals burp too
Burping isn’t solely restricted to human beings. Ruminant animals like cows, goats and sheep burp out methane, as a by-product of digesting their high-fibre diet. According to the Journal of Animal Science, ruminant livestock can produce 250 to 500 L of methane per day.