Deconstructing the burp: Also called a belch or an eructation, burps can point to digestive issues

While passing gas through your mouth is rarely a sign of something sinister, frequent burping can be caused by acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome and celiac disease.

Nick Beare 3 minute read November 10, 2021
cartoon of guy burping

Burping is like flatulence, except the gas is passed through the mouth. GETTY

Although the human body makes all sorts of peculiar sounds, but perhaps the loudest — and potentially most obnoxious — is the burp. And while they might be annoying or rude to some people, burps are also extremely common. In fact, most people burp three to six times, on average, after they eat or drink.

But what causes a burp? And is there such a thing as too much burping?

What is a burp?
Similar to flatulence, which is gas passed through the anus, a burp is gas passed through the mouth. Also called ‘belching’, burping is a completely natural phenomenon.

Every time we eat or drink, we swallow a little bit of air with whatever we’re consuming. That air we swallow contains gases like nitrogen and oxygen that separate from the food once they reach the stomach.

Once in the stomach, the gases press up against the little valve that holds the top of the stomach closed called the esophageal sphincter. The pressure builds underneath that sphincter, the valve opens and the gases rush back up the esophagus and out the mouth as a burp. The noise we make is caused by the esophageal sphincter vibrating against the wall of the esophagus.

Carbonated drinks are one of the main culprits of a bigger burp because they contain extra gas that we swallow on top of the gas we ingest from the air.

Eating a particularly large meal can also lead to increased burping because our stomachs expand with the excess food, causing more pressure buildup and more gas that has to be released.

Certain foods can also be blamed for boosting our burps, either because they force you to swallow more air than normal or the food produces gas on its own. Fibrous foods like beans, broccoli and other cruciferous veggies can lead to more gas, and foods like garlic, fish and eggs are often to blame for a particularly smelly belch.

Is burping ever a sign of something bad?
Most burps are simply the release of trapped gas that happens when we eat or drink. Everyone does it, and it’s almost always harmless. However, if you find you are burping far more than normal, it could be the sign of an underlying issue.

When your burping happens simultaneously with heartburn, you could be dealing with gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) , also known as chronic acid reflux or what most people assume is heartburn. With GERD, the esophageal sphincter that opens and closes to let the gas is weakened, letting acid from the stomach splash up into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation. Problems swallowing, chest pain, a sore throat and coughing are other signs of GERD.

Excess gas is also a symptom of IBS, celiac disease, gastritis, and a variety of other gastrointestinal issues.

According to Men’s Health, excess burping can also be a sign of a blockage in the colon. If the stomach can’t empty properly due to a tumour, ulcer, or some other blockage, it may cause a buildup of gas in the stomach and lead to more burping.

While that’s a rare occurrence, it’s best to speak with your doctor or a gastroenterologist if you find that you are burping more than the standard three to six times after eating or drinking.