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What is flatulence/gas?
Flatulence is another name for gas. You’ve experienced it. In fact, it’s normal for people pass gas several times a day.
Gas happens when air accumulates in your stomach or intestines. It often happens after eating a meal. The accumulated air needs to get out of your body. Sometimes it leaves through your mouth; that’s a burp. When it leaves your body through your anus, that’s gas. Also, when gas leaves through your anus, it contains sulfur. That’s why gas is sometimes stinky.
Symptoms of flatulence/gas
The most common symptom of gas is bloating. That’s an uncomfortable, swollen feeling in your abdomen. It is caused by the air that’s still in your intestines. Another symptom of gas is actually passing gas. Once you pass gas, the bloating feeling should go away.
What causes flatulence/gas?
Different people get gas for different reasons. But there are several main causes for gas.
Too much air. When you eat, you swallow a small amount of air. This air travels to your stomach and intestines during the digestion process. If it stays in your intestines, it can cause gas. There are certain times you swallow more air than usual. They include when you:
- Suck on hard candies or chew gum.
- Drink soda or other carbonated beverages.
- Eat too fast.
What you eat. You can also get gas because of what you eat. Sometimes, your stomach and small intestine don’t break down all the foods you eat, especially the fibers, sugars, and starches. These pass from your stomach and small intestine into your large intestine. There, bacteria that live in your large intestine break them down. This process creates gas. Some foods are known to cause gas. They include:
- broccoli and cauliflower
- whole wheat products
Medical conditions. You may be more likely to have gas if you have certain medical conditions. Some of them include:
- Celiac disease, an immune disorder.
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (also known as GERD).
- Irritable bowel syndrome (also known as IBS).
- Trouble digesting milk products (also known as lactose intolerance).
- An overgrowth of bacteria in your small intestine.
Additionally, some antibiotic medicines can cause gas.
How is flatulence/gas diagnosed?
Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms, medical history, and what you’ve eaten recently. He or she will likely do a physical exam of your abdomen and note if you’re bloated. Your doctor also may listen to your abdomen with a stethoscope.
If you have repeated pain from gas, your doctor may ask you to keep a food diary. To do this, you can use any paper or notebook to keep track of all the foods you eat. You’ll also need to note when you have gas. Then when you go back to the doctor, take your food diary with you. The information you’ve recorded will help you and your doctor figure out what foods are causing your gas.
In some instances, your doctor may order other tests to see if you have a medical condition that’s causing your gas.
Can flatulence/gas be prevented or avoided?
Everybody has gas from time to time. However, if you have gas on a regular basis, there are some things you can do to prevent it, such as avoiding certain foods and eating slowly.
- Once you know what foods trigger gas for you, eat small amounts of those foods or avoid them all together.
- Eat slowly. This will decrease the amount of air you swallow.
- Chew your food completely.
- Avoid using a straw. Straws make you swallow more air.
- Eat smaller, more frequent meals.
- Stop smoking.
- Take a walk 10-15 minutes after you eat. This will help your body digest your food properly and reduce the chance of getting gas.
If you have gas, you may want to take an over-the-counter medicine to help you feel better. Some medicines need to be taken before you eat, while others can be taken afterward. Talk with your doctor about which medicines are best for you. If your gas is more serious or related to a medical condition, your doctor may prescribe a prescription medicine for you to take.
Living with flatulence/gas
While having gas can be uncomfortable, it usually goes away on its own and isn’t a big cause for concern. However, call your doctor if you have gas and:
- Bloody, oily stools.
- Pain elsewhere in your body.
- Sudden change of symptoms or weight loss.
Questions for your doctor
- Why do I have gas?
- What medicines can I take to help relieve my gas?
- What can I do at home to feel better when I have gas?
- What can I do to feel better when I feel bloated?
- Do I need to keep a food diary?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.