Also known as farting, passing wind, or having gas, flatulence is a medical term for releasing gas from the digestive system through the anus. It happens when gas collects inside the digestive system and is a normal process.
Gas collects in the digestive tract when your body breaks down food. It can also happen when you swallow air while eating or drinking. Gas is usually made up of oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and occasionally methane.
On average, people experience flatulence between
In some cases, gas can cause pain and bloating and affect your daily activities. Adjusting your diet, taking medications, and exercising may help reduce gas discomfort.
Gas collects in two main ways. Swallowing air (aerophagia) while you eat or drink can cause oxygen and nitrogen to collect in the digestive tract. Second, as your body breaks down food, gases like hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide collect in the digestive tract. Either method can cause flatulence.
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
- wearing loose dentures
- sucking on objects like pen tops
- drinking carbonated beverages
- eating or drinking too quickly
The foods you eat could lead to excessive flatulence. Carbohydrates, for example, are known to cause gas.
Proteins and fats tend to cause less gas than carbohydrates. Some proteins can cause gas to have a stronger odor, though.
Some foods that increase gas include:
- Brussels sprouts
- whole grains
- dairy products
- oat bran
- foods high in fructose or sorbitol, like fruit juices and sugar-free candies
- processed foods
These foods can take a long time to digest, leading to the unpleasant smell associated with flatulence. Also, there are some foods the body can’t fully 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.
Not all foods will cause gas in all people. Keeping track of the foods you eat and flatulence symptoms you experience can help narrow down which ones cause gas in your body.
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 caused by a medical condition.
The conditions that can cause flatulence range from temporary health issues to chronic digestive problems. Some of these conditions include:
- food intolerances, like lactose intolerance
- Crohn’s disease
- celiac disease
- eating disorders
- ulcerative colitis
- dumping syndrome
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- autoimmune pancreatitis
- peptic ulcers
You may be able to relieve excess gas and reduce flatulence through a mix of lifestyle changes and diet adjustments. Home remedies for flatulence include:
- Keeping a food diary. This will help you figure out which foods increase gas in your body. After you identify some foods that cause you excessive flatulence, you can try to eat less of them or avoid them altogether.
- Adjusting your diet. If your diet includes a large amount of carbohydrates that are difficult to digest, try to replace them. Carbohydrates that are easier to digest, such rice and bananas, are substitutes that may reduce flatulence.
- Eating smaller meals more frequently. Eating around five to six small meals a day instead of three larger ones may be easier on your digestive system.
- Trying to swallow less air. Avoid doing anything that may increase the amount of air that you swallow. This includes making sure that you’re chewing your food properly, and avoiding chewing gum, smoking, and straws.
- Drinking lots of water. Staying hydrated can help you avoid constipation, which causes gas.
- Exercising regularly. Some people find that exercising helps to promote digestion and can prevent flatulence.
- Taking probiotics. Probiotics, like Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium, may promote regular digestion, which can help reduce gas. These can be found in over-the-counter (OTC) supplements and fermented foods, like sauerkraut and yogurt.
- Using charcoal pads. Lining your underwear with a “fart pad” made of charcoal could help reduce odor in some cases of excessive flatulence.
- Changing your posture. Sitting in an upright position can help your body release excess gas.
- Using a heating pad. Placing a heating pad or hot water bottle on your belly can help reduce pain and cramping from excess gas.
- Consuming ginger. Ginger is known to promote digestion. Improving your digestion may help relieve flatulence and bloating.
Medications can also be used to treat flatulence, depending on the cause of the problem. Treatment options include:
- OTC medications: Drugstores offer a variety of medications, like bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) and simethicone (Gas-X, Phazyme), that can help relieve flatulence.
- Prescription drugs: Certain prescription medications can target underlying conditions, like IBS or small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, that cause gas. Treating the condition may, in turn, reduce flatulence.
- Supplements: If you’re lactose intolerant, taking lactase (available OTC) may help relieve gas when you consume dairy products. Another supplement, alpha-galactosidase (Beano), can help the body break down legumes and vegetables in order to reduce gas.
Before adding any medications or supplements to your diet, consider checking in with a healthcare professional to make sure they’re safe for you.
If you’re concerned about flatulence, connect with a healthcare professional. They’ll ask about:
- your symptoms
- your diet
- your eating and drinking habits (like meal sizes and how quickly you eat)
- medications and supplements you take
- your medical history
They may also conduct a physical exam to check for swelling, tenderness, or sounds in your abdomen. This may include a physical exam of your rectum.
A healthcare professional may order additional medical tests, including X-rays, blood tests, and stool tests, to see if a potential health problem is behind your flatulence.
You may need to keep a food diary and adjust your eating habits as you work to find the cause of your excess gas.
Severe and persistent flatulence can make an impact on your physical well-being. It may cause pain, cramping, bloating, and other uncomfortable symptoms.
Excess gas can also create complications for your mental health. You may find it stressful or embarrassing to deal with frequent flatulence, especially in social situations.
Relieving gas with home remedies, medications, or both can help reduce the likelihood of complications, though. Try different strategies to see which ones work best for you, and consider talking with a healthcare professional if flatulence is causing complications in your life.
If you have unexplained flatulence, or if you experience the following symptoms along with flatulence, you should see your doctor:
- swollen abdomen
- abdominal pain
- gas that’s persistent and severe
- unintentional weight loss
- blood in stool
These symptoms may be a sign of a serious underlying condition.