Flatulence

Flatulence or ‘wind’ is an excess of gas in the stomach and intestines. Flatulence can be an embarrassing problem for some people, however, it is normal for gas in the digestive tract to be passed out through the rectum (as flatus) on average between 14 and 23 times a day, depending on your diet. A high fibre diet will produce more gas than a diet containing less fibre.

Symptoms of flatulence

Some symptoms of flatulence include:

  • bloating and discomfort;
  • excessive passing of wind;
  • belching; and
  • pain in the abdomen.

What causes flatulence?

Possible causes of flatulence include:

  • a diet containing foods that cause gas;
  • swallowing excessive air; and
  • some medical conditions, such as coeliac disease, lactose intolerance, or Crohn’s disease.

Foods causing wind

Reactions to different foods may vary from person to person. Some foods that may cause flatulence include:

  • vegetables such as cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions, asparagus and brussels sprouts;
  • fruits such as peaches, apples and pears;
  • fizzy drinks;
  • foods containing lactose (a sugar found in milk), such as dairy products, breads and cereals;
  • sugar-free confectionery and chewing gum;
  • whole grains such as bran and wheat; and
  • beans and pulses.

Swallowing excess air

Swallowing excess air may be caused by:

  • chewing gum;
  • smoking;
  • ill-fitting false teeth;
  • eating too quickly or talking while eating; and
  • anxiety.

Medical conditions

Medical conditions in which digestion of foods is impaired, such as Crohn’s disease and coeliac disease, often result in excess wind being produced in the gut.

Also, people who lack, or have deficiencies in, the enzyme that breaks down lactose in the gut will find that they produce excess gas when they consume foodstuffs containing lactose. These foods include milk and dairy products. This condition is known as lactose intolerance.

Odour

The majority of gas released is odourless (has no smell). Any odour is caused by bacteria in the large intestine producing methane and hydrogen sulphide (rotten egg gas) as they ferment your food. Nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, hydrogen and methane make up 90 per cent of gas, the remaining 10 per cent consists of other gases.

Talk to your doctor

If you are experiencing flatulence, talk to your doctor or health care professional. They can advise you on medications and lifestyle changes — such as eliminating certain foods from your diet — that may help alleviate the problem, and can help rule out other serious intestinal problems.


 
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