What causes flatulence? 31 possible conditions

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What Are Gas and Flatulence?

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

Gas collects in two main ways. First, when you swallow air during eating or drinking, oxygen and nitrogen collect in the digestive tract. Second, as you digest food, digestive gases such as hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide collect. Either case can cause flatulence.

What Are the Causes of Flatulence?

Flatulence is very common, and it is estimated that a man will naturally pass wind between 14 and 25 times a day. A woman will pass gas between seven and 12 times per day. If you pass wind more frequently than this on a regular basis, you could be suffering from excessive flatulence, which has a number of causes.

Swallowing Air

It is natural to swallow air throughout the day, normally during eating and drinking. Typically, only a small amount of air is swallowed. If you frequently swallow more air, you may find that you suffer from excessive flatulence.

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. Some foods cannot be absorbed, meaning that they pass from the intestines to the colon without first being digested. The colon contains a large number of bacteria that then break down the food, releasing gases as they do so.

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

Foods high in fructose or sorbitol, such as fruit juices, can also cause an increase in flatulence.

Health Conditions

If your diet does not contain a large amount of carbohydrates or sugars, and you do not swallow excessive air, your excessive flatulence may be caused by a medical condition.

Potential conditions behind 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, although they are rarely the cause.

How Is Flatulence Treated?

Flatulence may be treated in a number of ways, depending on the cause of the problem.

Self-Treatment

There may be ways for you to treat excessive flatulence yourself.

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

Keep a food diary so you can identify any triggers, and eat around six small meals a day instead of three larger ones.

Additionally, avoid doing anything that may increase the amount of air that you swallow. This includes ensuring that food is chewed properly, as well as 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 as well as dietary supplements, such as alpha-galactosidase (Beano).

Medical Care

If your flatulence is unexplained, or if you suffer from other symptoms along with flatulence such as a swollen abdomen or abdominal pain, it is important to see your doctor.

Your doctor will discuss your symptoms with you, including when the problem started, and if there are any apparent triggers.

A blood test may be requested, both to ensure that the body is not fighting an infection and to identify any possible food intolerances.

You are likely to be advised to follow the steps above, including keeping a food diary and changing your eating habits. You may also be referred to a dietician.

In addition, you may be given medication for a specific condition such as IBS, if it is diagnosed, or sent for further tests to get a conclusive diagnosis.

What Is the Outcome if Flatulence Is Left Untreated?

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

In some cases, prolonged excessive flatulence can lead to other issues, such as depression and eating disorders. It is important to maintain a healthy diet and to see your doctor if the problem begins to negatively affect your life.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

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2

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes many uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and pain.

Read more »

3

Indigestion

The feeling of being too full, bloating, heartburn, gas, and nausea are signs of indigestion.

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4

Giardiasis

Giardiasis is a parasitic infection of the small intestine. It may cause fatigue, stomach pain, bloating, and excessive gas.

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5

E. coli Infection

E. coli is a type of bacteria normally found in intestines. But certain kinds of E. coli can cause infection and severe symptoms like diarrhea and dehydration.

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6

Amebiasis

Amebiasis is a parasitic infection, common in tropical countries and caused by contaminated water. Symptoms can be severe and usually start one to four weeks after exposure.

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7

Gallstones

Gallstones are hard deposits in the gallbladder that can eventually block the exiting bile ducts. Abdominal pain, fever, itchy skin, and jaundice are possible symptoms.

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8

Crohn’s Disease

Crohn's disease is a chronic bowel disease that causes severe inflammation of the digestive tract. It is associated with abdominal pain, diarrhea, and may affect your quality of life. Crohn's disease is characterized b...

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9

Acute Cholecystitis - A Fancy Term for an Inflamed Gallbladder

Acute cholecystitis is also known as inflammation of the gallbladder. The gallbladder is an organ that sits below the liver, and helps your body digest fat. Cholecystitis can become very severe and requires immediat...

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10

Pregnancy

Bleeding or spotting, increased need to urinate, tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, and missed period are signs of pregnancy.

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11

H. Pylori Infection

H. pylori are a type of bacteria that may not cause problems. However, sometimes it can cause pain, bloating, and burping, and may lead to ulcers or stomach cancer.

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12

Hiatal Hernia

A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of your stomach pushes up through your diaphragm and into your chest cavity. Common symptoms include heartburn, belching, and abdominal discomfort.

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13

Food Poisoning

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Food poisoning occurs when you consume foods contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Symptoms are usually uncomfortable but not severe. Serious reactions can be life threatening and require medical treatment.

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14

Colitis

Colitis is inflammation of the colon, often causing discomfort and pain in the abdomen, as well as other gastrointestinal symptoms. Colitis has many possible causes, which determine the type.

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15

Intestinal Obstruction

If your small or large intestine becomes blocked, fluid and digested food cannot move through. This can cause bloating, stomach cramps, and burping.

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16

Malabsorption Syndrome

Malabsorption syndrome occurs when the intestine's ability to absorb important nutrients is compromised. Certain conditions, such as Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and dairy allergies may lead to malabsorption.

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17

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas, which causes pain and swelling in the upper left side of the abdomen, nausea, and burping.

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18

Stomach Cancer (Gastric Adenocarcinoma)

Gastric cancer forms inside the stomach. Symptoms include pain or fullness in the stomach, nausea, and dark stool.

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19

Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Symptoms vary but can include arthritis, fatigue, and abdominal symptoms.

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20

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that affects cells that produce mucous, sweat, and digestive juices. It may cause severe problems in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine

Read more »

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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