HEALTH ENCYCLOPEDIA

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Gas & Flatulence

Flatulence is a medical term for releasing gas from the digestive system through the anus. It’s also commonly known as farting, passing wind, or having gas. It occurs when gas collects inside the digestive system, and is a normal process.

Gas collects in two main ways. Swallowing air while you eat or drink can cause oxygen and nitrogen to collect in the digestive tract. Second, as you digest food, digestive gases such as hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide collect. Either method can cause flatulence.

What Causes Flatulence?

Flatulence is very common. We all accumulate gas in our digestive system. The Mayo Clinic estimates that most people pass gas about 10 times a day. If you pass wind more frequently than this on a regular basis, you could have excessive flatulence, which has a number of causes.

Swallowing Air

It’s natural to swallow air throughout the day, normally during eating and drinking. Typically, you’ll only swallow a small amount of air. If you frequently swallow more air, you may find that you experience excessive flatulence. It may also cause burping.

Reasons that you may swallow more air than normal include chewing gum, smoking, sucking on objects such as pen tops, drinking carbonated drinks, and eating too quickly.

Dietary Choices

Your dietary choices could lead to excessive flatulence. There are some foods our bodies can’t absorb. This means that they pass from the intestines to the colon without being completely digested first. The colon contains a large amount of bacteria that then break down the food, releasing gases as they do so. The buildup of this gas causes flatulence.

If your diet is high in foods such as beans, cabbage, broccoli, raisins, lentils, prunes, and apples, you may have more flatulence. These foods can also take a long time to digest, leading to the unpleasant smell associated with flatulence.

Foods high in fructose or sorbitol, such as fruit juices, can also cause an increase in flatulence due to the way your digestive tract processes the sugars.

Health Conditions

If your diet doesn’t contain a large amount of carbohydrates or sugars, and you don’t swallow excessive air, your excessive flatulence may be due to a medical condition.

Potential conditions underlying flatulence range from temporary conditions, such as constipation and gastroenteritis, to food intolerances, such as lactose intolerance. Digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and celiac disease, can also lead to flatulence. However, they are rarely the cause.

What Are the Treatment Options for Flatulence?

There are a number of ways to treat flatulence, depending on the cause of the problem.

Self-Treatment

There are a number of ways you can successfully treat excessive flatulence.

First, look at your diet. If it contains a large amount of carbohydrates that are difficult to digest, try to replace them. Carbohydrates that are easier to digest, such as potatoes, rice, and bananas, are good substitutes.

Keep a food diary so you can identify any triggers. After you identify some foods that cause you excessive flatulence, you can learn to avoid them or to eat less of them. You can also try to eat around five to six small meals a day instead of three larger ones to help your digestive process.

Additionally, avoid doing anything that may increase the amount of air that you swallow. This includes making sure that you are chewing your food properly, and avoiding chewing gum or smoking.

Some people find that exercising helps to promote digestion and can prevent flatulence.

There are a number of over-the-counter medications that can treat flatulence, although these will only temporarily stop the problem. These include charcoal tablets that absorb gas through the digestive system, and dietary supplements such as alpha-galactosidase (Beano).

Medical Care

If you have unexplained flatulence, or if you suffer from other symptoms along with flatulence, such as a swollen abdomen or abdominal pain, you should bring it up to your doctor.

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, including when the problem started, and if there are any apparent triggers. He or she will also do a physical examination.

A blood test may be necessary, to ensure that your body isn’t fighting an infection, to identify any possible food intolerances, and to make sure there is not another medical condition causing your flatulence.

Your doctor will likely advise you to follow the steps above, including keeping a food diary and changing your eating habits. Depending on the cause, you may also benefit from seeing a dietician.

In addition, you may receive medication for a specific condition. If your doctor has been able to identify an underlying condition, you will receive treatment for that. You may also have to undergo further tests to get a conclusive diagnosis for your excessive flatulence.

What Are the Complications Associated with Flatulence?

There are no long-term consequences for not treating flatulence. If the flatulence is due to a food intolerance or digestive issue, the problem may get worse. Other symptoms may also develop.

In some cases, prolonged excessive flatulence can lead to other issues, such as social discomfort and changes in eating habits. If it affects your lifestyle a lot, it may also affect your mood. It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and to see your doctor if the problem begins to negatively affect your life.


Content licensed from:

Written by: Kati Blake
Published on: Jul 30, 2012on: Mar 02, 2016

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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