Flatulation

What Causes Flatulence? What Steps You Can Take To Treat Excessive Gas

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Flatulence and belching are natural occurrences that result from eating or drinking too quickly.  Eating certain foods or drinking carbonated beverages can introduce air into the stomach and cause flatulence.

Flatulence is also caused by the passage of undigested food from the small intestine to the large intestine.  Bacteria in the large intestine process the food and produce harmless gases, such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane, which are released through the rectum.

 

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Certain foods, such as carbohydrates, fibers and sugars, are more likely than other foods to cause gas.

Food Causes of Flatulence

Flatulence may be caused by eating certain foods including:

  • Fiber, especially soluble forms of fiber, which passes undigested until it reaches the large intestine.
  • Starchy foods, such as bread and rice
  • Sugars, including fructose (found in some foods and sweeteners), lactose (found in dairy products), raffinose (found in Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and beans), and sorbitol (found in fruits and artificial sweeteners)

Gastrointestinal causes of flatulence

  • Almost any condition affecting the digestive tract can cause flatulence.  These include conditions in which normal movement or flow in the digestive tract is obstructed, interrupted, or delayed.  Examples include gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), intestinal obstruction, hiatal hernia, and gastrointestinal reflux disease (also known as GERD).  In other types of disorders, the enzymes or processes that are needed to digest food completely are either deficient or absent.  Examples include flood intolerance and gallbladder disease.

Flatulence can be caused by many conditions affecting the digestive tract including:

  • bowel obstruction
  • Food allergies (allergic reactions to certain foods) or food intolerances (difficulty digesting certain foods without symptoms of a food allergy)
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining)
  • Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying)
  • Hiatal hernia
  • Malabsorption
  • Pancreatic disease
  • Peptic ulcer disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Tumors of the gastrointestinal tract

Serious or Life-Threatening Causes of Flatulence

Flatulence is a normal body process that is rarely serious in nature.  However, in rare cases, flatulence may be a symptom of a serious or life threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting.  These include:

  • Abdominal abscesses
  • Obstruction of the digestive tract

Swallowed Air

Some people habitually swallow air called aerophagia.  They’re usually unaware they do this, and the cause is often anxiety related.

The gas swallowed is composed mainly of oxygen and nitrogen. Most of the oxygen is absorbed by the mucous lining of the gut or is used up by colon bacteria, with very little ending up in flatulence.

Nitrogen, on the other hand, is poorly absorbed by the mucous lining and most of the swallowed nitrogen ends up in flatulence.

Treatment Strategies

  1. Becoming aware that air is being swallowed can help.  People become conscious of their breathing patterns.
  2. Relaxation techniques may be able to help reduce anxiety.
  3. Avoid lying down after eating.  Gas from the stomach passes into the intestines more readily in this position.

Poorly Absorbed Carbohydrates

Hydrogen and carbon dioxide are produced by colon bacteria in the presence of poorly absorbed carbohydrates.  If flatulence is accompanied by diarrhea and weight loss,  it may indicate a malabsorption disorder such as lactose intolerance or pancreatic insufficiency and should be evaluated by your primary care provider.

More common is excess flatulence after eating large amounts of poorly absorbed carbohydrates such as beans or foods to which you have a food sensitivity.  Common foods sensitivities include milk and wheat products.

Treatment Strategies

  1. Chew food carefully.  Carbohydrate digestion begins in the mouth.  Any work your teeth don’t do, your stomach will have to do later.
  2. An alternative practitioner may suggest an elimination and challenge diet.  This is a diagnostic diet to help uncover food insensitivities and in tolerances.
  3. Consult your primary care provider to rule out malabsoption disorder if you are also experiencing weight loss and diarrhea.

Gas and Flatulence After High-Fat Meals

Eating a high-fat meal can generate a large amount of carbon dioxide, some of which is released as gas.  That’s because carbon dioxide is produced in the small intestine when bicarbonate is released to neutralize stomach acid and fat during meals.

Treatment Strategies

  1. Eat smaller, more frequent meals instead of three large meals.
  2. Avoid high-fat meals.
  3. Consult your primary care provider to rule out the possibility of malabsorption.  Signs of fat malabsorption include loose and light colored stools.

Odorous Flatulence and Gas

Gas that has a strong odor usually results from the metabolism of sulfur containing proteins and amino acids in the intestines.

Treatment Strategies

  1. Chew meat and other protein foods carefully.  Avoid excessive protein in your diet.
  2. Taking activated charcoal tablets can help to remove the odor.

Eating Foods that Produce Gas

Certain foods are inherently gas producing.  Gas producing food include beans, cabbage, broccoli, fluffy wheat products such as bread, apples, peaches, pears, prunes, corn, oats, potatoes, milk, ice cream, and soft cheese.

Foods that produce minimal gas include rice, bananas, citus, grapes, hard cheese, meat, eggs, peanut butter, non carbonated beverages, and yogurt made with live bacteria.

Diagnosing the Causes of Flatulence

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your flatulence including:

  • How long have you experienced flatulence?
  • Does your flatulence worsen when you consume certain food or drinks?
  • Is your flatulence become worse or more frequent?

What Are The Potential Complications of Flatulence?

Flatulence is generally a harmless symptom that does not produce long term complications.  However, some of the gastrointestinal conditions associated with flatulence may have serious complications as a result of the underlying disease rather than the symptom of flatulence itself.

For example, intestinal obstruction due to cancer is a condition that can have long-term and potentially serious of life threatening complications.

It is important that gas and bloating are vague symptoms that can be associated with many medical diseases, so consultation with your primary care provider should always be the first step.

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