Medical Mystery: Uncontrollable Burping

"It's not super common but a lot of people do complain about isolated burping," Breite said. "There's no way to quantify how much gas is being produced in a burp. In that sense, it's hard to quantify what to do about it. It's just embarrassing."

Mind Over Stomach

A few experts did note that chronic burping, in the absence of obvious medical problems, could point to an underlying psychological condition, although there is no basis to suggest that this is the case with Driscoll.

Breite suggested that, despite sounding like a chicken-or-egg problem, a depressed or anxious person may be able to treat his chronic burping with antidepressants.

And Lee pointed out that chronic burping could be the result of chronic air swallowing which, aside from acid reflux, could indicate an obsessive compulsive personality.

"You can swallow air without necessarily being conscious of it," Lee said. "It's a habitual thing and you have to be trained not to do it."

Chronic Belching Can Take a Toll

Others say the problem may not be mechanical at all. "[Burping] is a reflex that is central in the brain," said Dr. Martin Makary, chair of gastrointestinal surgery at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution. "In a small percentage of cases, it is possible to have the reflex triggered with no known cause."

Driscoll, who was tested for underlying psychological causes for her burping and was given a clean bill of mental health, said she rejects the possibility of having a psychological disorder, although she acknowledges the toll her condition has taken on her overall mental state.

"My day is taken up of belching when I'm doing anything or sitting or lying down," said Driscoll, whose belching stops if she lies down. "Of course, I get very depressed now. Your life is gone."

Driscoll pointed out that her constant burping occasionally causes pain when wind is brought up through the stomach and the esophagus -- and the burps do not sound like a typical burp.

"They say it's belching, but when I've heard it on a tape recorder, it sounds more like spasms," Driscoll said. "Friends say it doesn't sound like a belch but like something different, but it's the nearest word I can come up with."

Driscoll and her family are still looking for a way to quell the constant burping but without luck so far.

"When it started, I tried laughing at it," Driscoll said. "But I can't do that anymore."

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