What causes flatulence? 31 possible conditions
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Flatulence may be treated in a number of ways, depending on the cause of the problem.
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).
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.
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.
- Flatulence and Wind. (n.d.). Patient.co.uk. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/Flatulence-and-Wind.htm
- Flatulence—Diagnosis. (n.d.). NHS Choices. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Flatulence/Pages/Diagnosis.aspx
- Preventing Gas and Flatulence. (n.d.). Harvard Health Publications. Retrieved July 26, 2012, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/press_releases/gas-flatulence
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