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Flatulence

Introduction

Flatulence is an act of passing or breaking wind. It happens when your body needs to get rid of the excess air that builds up from drinking and swallowing food and saliva.

Flatulence can be embarrassing, but it is a common problem and affects everyone at all ages. On average, the majority of people pass gas 15 times up to 40 times in a day.

Diagnosis

Wind is the result of excess gas in the colon and is not normally a cause for concern. However, if your wind is accompanied by other symptoms, you may need to talk to your health provider, as the combination of symptoms may be due to an undiagnosed condition.

Although the large majority of cases of excessive flatulence are harmless, it can be a symptom of digestive disorders such as gastroenteritis or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

If you have other symptoms such as abdominal pain, blood in your stools, pale stools that are difficult to flush away, constipation and/or unexpected loss of weight, please consult your doctor to rule out more seriously conditions.

Medical conditions that can cause flatulence are:

  • irritable bowel syndrome (IBS),
  • gastroenteritis,
  • diverticulosis or diverticulitis,
  • coeliac disease,
  • indigestion

Sign & Symptom

Excess flatulence may be accompanied by other symptoms caused by bowel gas:

  • Belching (burping) – gas is released through your mouth in a sudden reflex movement. This happens when your stomach becomes filled with excess swallowed air, usually from eating, drinking or smoking.
  • Bloating – your feels very full and may make you feel as if you need to belch. It is often caused by eating rich foods that take a long time to digest properly.

Rumbling stomach – this occurs when your stomach contracts quickly, causing the contents of the intestine to be pushed backwards and forwards. It can happen when you are hungry but can also be triggered by anxiety and nervousness.

Complications

  • Social embarrassment
  • Low self esteem

Treatment

Flatulence is generally treated with dietary measures. Lifestyle modifications or over-the-counter medications are also helpfull. The solution isn’t the same for everyone. With a little trial and error, most people are able to find some relief.

Over-the-counter remedies

Some products may help, consider trying:

  • Lactase supplements.
    Supplements of the enzyme lactase (Lactaid), which helps you digest lactose, may help if you are lactose intolerant. You might also try dairy products that are lactose-free or have reduced lactose. They’re available at most grocery stores.
  • Simethicone.
    See if you benefit can from using one of the many over-the-counter products that contain simethicone. Simethicone helps break up the bubbles in gas and may help with excessive belching.
  • Activated charcoal.
    Charcoal tablets also may help. You take them before and after a meal. They’re available in natural food stores and many drugstores

Prevention

Dietary measures

Changes in dietary habit may help reduce the amount of gas your body produces or help gas move more quickly through your system:

  • Try to identify and avoid the foods that affect you the most. The worst offenders for many people include beans, onions, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, pears, apples, peaches, prunes, sugar-free candies and chewing gum, whole-wheat bread, bran cereals, beer, sodas and other carbonated beverages, milk, cream, ice cream and ice milk.
  • Try cutting back on fried and fatty foods. Bloating usually results from eating fatty foods. Fat delays stomach emptying and can increase the sensation of fullness.
  • Temporarily cut back on high-fiber foods such as fruits and vegetables. If you take a fiber supplement, try cutting back on the amount you take and build up your intake gradually. Be sure to take fiber supplements with at least 8 ounces of water and drink plenty of extra liquids throughout each day.
  • Reduce your use of dairy products. Try using low-lactose dairy foods, such as yogurt, instead of milk. Consuming small amounts of milk products at one time or consuming them with other foods also may make them easier to digest. In some cases, however, you may need to eliminate dairy foods completely.
  • Try a cup of peppermint tea. Peppermint oil contains menthol, which appears to have an antispasmodic. You may find that a warm cup of peppermint tea can provide relief from gas and gas pain. On the other hand, peppermint may contribute to heartburn and acid reflux.

Lifestyle modification

  • Try smaller meals.
    Eat several small meals throughout the day instead of two or three larger ones.
  • Eat slowly, chew your food thoroughly and don’t gulp.
    If you have a hard time slowing down, put down your fork between each bite.
  • Avoid chewing gum, hard candies and drinking through a straw.
    These activities can cause you to swallow more air.
  • Don’t eat when you’re anxious or upset.
    Take meals in a relaxed situation and eat slowly. Eating when you’re stressed can cause indigestion.
  • Check your dentures.
    Poorly fitting dentures can cause excess air being swallowed when you eat and drink.
  • Stop smoke.
    Cigarette smoking can increase the amount of air you swallow.
Last Reviewed : 26 April 2012
Writer : Dr. A. Khalek Abd. Rahman
Reviewer : Dr. Fuziah Paimin