Ben

Sulfurous burps

For the past year and a half I have suffered from sulfurous burps. They usually come with stomach cramping and diarrhoea. Symptoms usually last for 2-3 days then go away for a while before coming back again. I haven’t been able to establish a link between the burps and any particular foods I’ve eaten; the only thing I think I can relate these episodes to is stress.

The doctor previously gave me some omeprazole. It works after a day or so but I don't really want to have to take tablets all the time for something that comes and goes.

6 March 2019

Most of the causes of sulphur – or ‘rotten egg’ – burps are not life-threatening and are easy to correct. However, when eggy burps are accompanied by nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea, or become a regular occurrence, this might be an indication of a more serious underlying health problem that needs to be investigated further. For this reason I would suggest you speak to your GP. They’ll be able to help identify the true cause of your symptoms – with further tests if necessary – and arrange appropriate treatment.

In the meantime we’ve put together some information about the causes of sulphurous burps and how you can help alleviate the symptoms, which we hope you find useful.

What causes sulphurous burps?

Often the gas that’s released when we burp is odourless. However if it’s come into contact with hydrogen sulfide in your gut it can end up smelling strongly or sulfur or rotten eggs.

Hydrogen sulphide is a natural by-product of digesting certain foods and most commonly associated with something you’ve eaten. It can also be the result of an infection or a more long-term gut condition. Here we look at each of these in turn:

Food and drink-related sulphur burbs

If you have occasional sulphur burps, think about the food and drink you’ve consumed recently. The hydrogen sulphides that cause the smell are particularly associated with the breakdown of certain foods, with some of the main culprits being:

  • proteins – such as red meats and poultry, eggs, seafood and dairy products.
  • cruciferous vegetables, such as brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and kale, which are all rich in sulphur compounds.
  • pungent vegetables such as garlic, onions and leeks.
  • drinks such as coffee, colas and beer.
  • cashew nuts and bananas are also known to trigger sulphur burps.

Everyone’s digestive system reacts differently to different foods, so if you want to identify what’s causing the problem it’s a good idea to keep a food diary. Once you know your trigger foods you can avoid them to help prevent future bouts of eggy burbs, or at least be prepared for the consequences of eating them if you do!

Gut infections

Research has shown that infections in the digestive system caused by H. Pyloris bacteria and Giardia parasite can cause eggy burps. If you have one of these infections, you will very likely experience other symptoms, such as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. If this happens the best course of action is to visit your GP for testing and so they can arrange appropriate treatment if necessary. 

Chronic digestive conditions that can cause sulphur burps

Other possible causes do need to be considered. These include: 

  • Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) – caused by bacteria from elsewhere in the gut spreading into the small intestine and upsetting the natural balance and quantity of bacteria in this section of the digestive tract, resulting in bloating and burping
  • Lactose intolerance – when the body has difficulty digesting lactose, which is mainly found in milk and dairy products
  • Crohn’s disease– a chronic form of inflammatory bowel disease
  • Coeliac disease (gluten intolerance)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), also known as acid reflux.

If symptoms are ongoing I would suggest you discuss referral to a gastroenterologist with your GP to assess your symptoms. 

Treating sulphur burps

Treatment for sulphur burbs will depend on the underlying cause and may be as simple as eliminating ‘trigger’ foods from your diet.

Drinking plenty of water and generally looking after your gut health can go a long way to alleviating or even preventing many digestive problems and improving overall health. Follow the link above for lots of tips from associate registered nutritionist, Rajkeeran Kundi.

Cutting down on alcohol and carbonated drinks is recommended.

Digestive supplements and teas such as green, peppermint and chamomile tea – believed to have gut soothing properties – and may also help relieve symptoms.

If omitting your trigger foods and making lifestyle changes don’t help, medication is available to treat sulphur burps.

You mention being prescribed omeprazole in the past. This drug is widely used to treat a number of digestive problems, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (acid reflux) and stomach infections caused by H. Pyloris bacteria, both of which can cause sulphur burps.

Omeprazole works by reducing the amount of acid produced in your stomach and some people can safely take it for long periods of time under the supervision of their doctor. However, if you’re uncomfortable about taking any medication, or don’t believe it’s having the desired effect it’s always a good idea to go back to the prescriber and share your concerns. With most medicines there are alternatives you can try or your doctor may wish to investigate the cause of your symptoms further.

If you have any further questions about your symptoms or your medication please don’t hesitate to contact us again.

Answered by the Health at Hand team.

Further reading

Giardiasis – NHS factsheet

Tips for a healthier gut – AXA PPP healthcare

Love your gut: The ‘Super 3’ Exercises for better digestion – AXA PPP healthcare

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