Medical Mystery: Uncontrollable Burping

Medications and tests offer no answers for a U.K. woman who cannot stop burping.

ByABC News
March 5, 2009, 6:10 PM

March 6, 2009 — -- Jean Driscoll, 72, was a healthy, active retiree, busy volunteering as a school governor and at her local hospital in Essex, England.

Two years ago, however, chest pains behind her sternum slowly developed into intense belches that never went away and brought Driscoll's life to a standstill.

"You think to yourself, 'I'm probably imagining it,' which we do when we get aches and pains sometimes," Driscoll said. "But [belching] is something, which has affected my whole life. I don't go out because it's embarrassing."

Driscoll, a former nurse and social worker, has given up her volunteering and much of her social life for a more private life at home.

Driscoll's son Steven, 36, with whom she lives, said friends and family help Driscoll shop, run errands or go to doctor's appointments. But practical support is all they can provide.

"It's not really affecting us in a bad way," her son said. "We're all just concerned for her and are wondering why it's taking doctors so long to do anything for her. We can't help her physically."

Nor can experts, it seems.

Driscoll said she has had a barrage of tests and medications in the last two years to see whether there was anything wrong with her stomach and intestines, including ultrasounds, barium-laced meals followed by X-rays, blood tests and tests for the bacterium H. pylori, a common culprit in digestive problems. All the results came back negative.

Alternative medicine techniques such as acupuncture and hypnosis also yielded no results.

"The tests are all negative, which is a very nice thing to happen," Driscoll said. "But it doesn't solve the problem and I've still got it."

A burp is a simple function designed to expel excess air from the stomach, air which we swallow while eating, drinking carbonated beverages or smoking, among other ways. People can even swallow air without realizing it. Too much air in the stomach can lead to excessive burping.

But Driscoll is not satisfied that her condition is related to swallowing too much air.