What is flatulence?
Flatulence is a buildup of gas in the digestive system that can lead to abdominal discomfort. Most people experience flatulence.
When we digest food, gas is released, mainly in the form of hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide. As gas builds up, the body may need to eliminate it, either through the mouth, by burping, or by blowing air through the anal canal.
Flatulence often occurs without the person realizing it. There is no smell and the amount is minuscule. When there is an odour, there are usually small amounts of sulfur gases. If food has not been digested properly, it begins to break down, releasing sulfur.
Could gas be a sign of a medical problem?
Chronic belching can be a sign of problems in the upper digestive tract, such as ulcers or gastroesophageal reflux disease. You may hear this called GERD. Many things cause swelling, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Colon cancer
- Crohn’s disease
- A hernia
- Lactose intolerance
- Celiac Disease
Causes of flatulence
There are several natural causes of flatulence. Flatulence can also be caused by some health conditions related to the digestive system or as a side effect of certain medications.
It’s natural to swallow air throughout the day, normally during eating and drinking. However, it is easy to swallow much more air than usual without realizing it. This can lead to excessive flatulence. Excess air can be swallowed by:
- Bubble gum
- Sucking on objects such as pen tops
- Drinking carbonated drinks
- Eating too quickly
Hot and fizzy drinks also increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the stomach, although it is more likely to cause belching rather than flatulence.
Food and drink
Some carbohydrates in food cannot be digested or absorbed by the intestines. These pass into the colon to be degraded by bacteria, producing gas, which is released in the form of flatulence. Foods that contain a large number of nonabsorbable carbohydrates include:
- Brussels sprouts
Foods that are high in fibre from unrefined grains, such as bran, can also sometimes cause problems with wind and bloating.
Other foods and drinks that contain a sweetener called sorbitol (such as sugar-free gum or weight loss products) or a type of sugar called fructose (such as fruit juice) can also cause flatulence. This means that chewing sugarless gum can cause flatulence both from the sweetener and from swallowing air.
Certain foods, such as cabbage or onions, can cause the production of gases that contain sulfur, which can lead to a foul wind. However, smelly wind production can vary from person to person depending on what you eat, so it is up to you to determine which foods cause the most odour.
Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, including when the problem started, and if there are any apparent triggers. They’ll 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 isn’t 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 dietitian.
Also, you may receive medication for a specific condition. If your doctor has been able to identify an underlying condition, you’ll receive treatment for that. You may also have to undergo further tests to get a conclusive diagnosis for your excessive flatulence.
You can often prevent flatulence by modifying your eating habits and diet:
Eat and drink slowly, in a quiet environment. Chew food well before swallowing.
Avoid the foods that most usually cause flatulence, such as beans, high-fibre foods, cruciferous vegetables, effervescent drinks, and sugar-free products containing sorbitol, for a few days. Then gradually add them back to your diet, one at a time, while keeping track of your symptoms. This should allow you to determine which foods are causing you flatulence. Then you can avoid them.
If you need to add more fibre to your diet, surge your fibre slowly over a period of days or weeks. An unexpected increase in dietary fibre often triggers flatulence, but a gradual increase may not.
If you eat beans, try an over-the-counter product, such as Beano, which contains enzymes that break down the poorly digested sugars found in beans.
There are several ways to treat flatulence, depending on the cause of the problem. There are several ways to successfully treat excessive flatulence.
First, watch your diet. If it contains a lot of hard-to-digest carbohydrates, try replacing them. Carbohydrates that are easier to digests, 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 are causing you excessive flatulence, you can learn to avoid them or eat less. You can also try eating five to six small meals a day instead of three larger ones to help your digestive process.
Also, avoid doing anything that can increase the amount of air you take in. This includes making sure you chew your food properly and avoid chewing gum or smoking.
Some people find that exercise helps promote digestion and can prevent flatulence.
Several over-the-counter medications can treat farting, although they will only temporarily stop the problem, be sure to consult a doctor before taking any.