Intestinal Disorders Excessive Flatulence

“Beans, beans, the musical fruit, the more you eat the more you toot.” (Traditional childhood dietary advice)

Call it what you will, flatulence, intestinal gas, wind, tooting, farting or flatus, one fact is constant: We all pass gas. Flatulence is the subject of elementary school humor, the bane of the socially sensitive, an embarrassment and one of the most natural of body processes. Intestinal gas is usually harmless, although capable of causing abdominal bloating in some people.

Causes of Intestinal Gas and Flatulence

Eighty to ninety percent of flatulence results from bacterial metabolism. The intestines are crowded with helpful bacteria that aid in digestion. Bacterial metabolism produces the basic ingredients of intestinal gas: hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide.

Some of this intestinal gas is diffused into the blood and exits quietly through the lungs. Intestinal gas in the stomach often escapes as belching, an embarrassing, but somewhat more socially respectable alterative to flatus. But a hefty chunk of bacteria-generated intestinal gas exits as flatulence.

Eating certain fruits and vegetables increases the chances of flatulence. The list of flatus producing foods includes:

  • beans
  • broccoli
  • brussel sprouts
  • cabbage
  • cauliflower
  • cucumbers
  • melons
  • onions
  • radishes
  • turnips.

Carbohydrates are the most effective (or notorious) wind generators. Some people are simply better able to digest carbohydrates than others, explaining how a bowl of chili can cause abdominal bloating in one person, and no symptoms of intestinal gas at all in another.

Heredity and Flatus

Heredity plays a large role in flatulence. Intestinal bacteria levels seem to be higher in some families than others. When excessive flatulence has a hereditary cause, wind makes itself known early in infancy and continues throughout life.

Medical Causes of Abdominal Bloating and Flatus

A number of intestinal health problems cause excessive flatulence and abdominal bloating. Malabsorption syndromes such as gluten intolerance or lactose intolerance can cause painful abdominal bloating and gas if the wrong foods are ingested.

People with irritable bowel syndrome, pancreatic insufficiency and tropical sprue can also experience general abdominal bloating and flatulence.

“Better out than in, I always say.” (Shrek, ogre and flatus advocate)

Diagnosing Excessive Intestinal Gas

Many people feel their level of flatulence is excessive and seek medical advice. Like bowel movements, however, there is no “right” amount of intestinal gas or flatus frequency. While fourteen episodes of flatulence a day is considered average, flatus production varies among individuals.

Regular or severe bloating may indicate one of the medical causes listed above, and should be reported to a doctor. Flatulence is generally not considered indicative of a medical problem unless one of the following factors is present:

  • sudden development in abdominal bloating or pain
  • change in the frequency or severity of flatulence
  • onset of flatulence or abdominal bloating after age forty.

“Fart proudly.” (Benjamin Franklin)

Silencing the Storm: Reducing Flatulence

Okay, so intestinal gas is natural. That’s little comfort in a crowded elevator. How do you minimize flatus production?

Medications for flatulence don’t exist. Antispasmodic drugs can alleviate symptoms of abdominal bloating associated with intestinal gas, but their negative effect on the eyes, bladder and bowels limits their usefulness.

Lifestyle changes are the best methods available for reducing flatulence. Keep a food diary to determine which foods trigger excessive intestinal gas so you can avoid or limit their consumption. Eat a regular, well-balanced diet, and stick to a regular exercise and sleep schedule.

Avoid swallowing air. While most swallowed air returns as belching, a certain amount inevitably finds its way into the intestines. To avert swallowing air, avoid the following:

  • drinking carbonated drinks
  • chewing gum
  • sighing deeply
  • drinking from water fountains
  • inducing belches
  • wearing poorly fitting denture
  • smoking
  • using straws
  • sucking hard candies.

Other flatulence and abdominal bloating reduction strategies include:

  • chewing food properly
  • not lying down after eating
  • not overeating
  • drinking normally, without gulping or sipping
  • eating slowly
  • not washing food down with a drink
  • wearing loose, comfortable clothes.

The Last Word on Flatulence

Intestinal gas and flatulence seems to bring out the elementary school kid in people, like the eight-year-old who finds flatus simultaneously gross and hilarious. Even medical professionals aren’t immune to this effect. No less respected a publication than the Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy ends its otherwise scientific explanation of flatus with the following, tongue-in-cheek observation, which was published in earlier versions of the manual.

“Flatulence, which can cause great psychosocial distress, is unofficially described according to its salient characteristics: (1) the “slider” (crowded elevator type), which is released slowly and noiselessly, sometimes with devastating effect; (2) the open sphincter, or “pooh” type, which is said to be of higher temperature and more aromatic; (3) the staccato or drumbeat type, pleasantly passed in privacy; and (4) the “bark” type (described in a personal communication) is characterized by a sharp exclamatory eruption that effectively interrupts (and often concludes) conversation. Aromaticity is not a prominent feature. Rarely, this usually distressing symptom has been turned to advantage, as with a Frenchman referred to as “Le Petomane,” who became affluent as an effluent performer who played tunes with the gas from his rectum on the Moulin Rouge stage.”

Resources

Beers, M.H.