Flatulence is the release of a mixture of gases (flatus) from the rectum under pressure. Flatus consists of methane, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon dioxide gases and is often accompanied by a sound and smell. The amount of the constituent gases varies depending on your diet which subsequently alters the odour of the flatus.
However, the normal amount of flatus varies largely between people so it is more important to take note of changes in the amount and other associated symptoms such as belching and abdominal bloating.
You may therefore notice some of the following symptoms that will confirm that you have flatulence:
- Passing wind often
- Smelly flatus
- Loud flatus
- Abdominal distension and discomfort
- Rumblings in the lower abdomen.
Causes of Flatulence
Production of intestinal gas is a normal part of the digestive process caused by reactions of enzymes and the breakdown of food by bacteria. Generally, most of this gas produced will be reabsorbed and will enter the bloodstream.
However, if a large amount is produced it will remain in the intestines and travel along to be later expelled. The following are the conditions which can lead to an increase in gas expulsion:
- Air swallowing- A small amount of air is normally swallowed when you eat or drink. If you eat quickly, gulp foods, drink through straws or chew gum you may swallow increases amounts of gas. In addition, anxiety can cause excessive air swallowing.
- High-fibre diets- Fibre is very difficult to breakdown in the intestine. This leads to bacteria in the colon working overtime to further digest food. These bacteria are one of the key sources of gas leading to flatulence. Common high fibre foods such as bread are imaged below.
- Irritable bowel syndrome - Patients with this disorder has alternating episodes of constipation and diarrhea which are often accompanied by flatulence and bloating.
- Lactose intolerance - Unable to absorb the sugars which are present in milk that leads to gas production as these have to be broken down by bacteria via the process of fermentation. Dairy foods such as milk, cheese and cream (displayed below) can exacerbate symptoms as they contain a high concentration of lactose.
Treatment of Flatulence
Management of extra gas can be quite difficult and does not always work in all patients. You can help in lowering down this symptom by adopting the following lifestyle measures:
- Eat more slowly
- Chew your food thoroughly
- Relax whilst you eat
- Avoid carbonated drinks and chewing gum
- Limit foods i.e. linked with high amounts of flatus like legumes, beans, lentils, raisins, foods high in insoluble fibre, artificial sweeteners and vegetables of the cabbage family
- Quit smoking
- Reduce milk consumption if lactose intolerance has been identified as the problem
- Add probiotics (such as yoghurt) to your diet to replenish the normal good bacteria in the bowel
Relaxation techniques have been shown to be helpful. Unfortunately the medical treatments that is currently available like simethicone, antacids, activated charcoal and beano have failed to give better results.