FLATULENCE (FARTING): CAUSES, SYMPTOMS AND REMEDIES
FLATULENCE (FARTING): CAUSES, SYMPTOMS AND REMEDIES
Flatulence, also known as "farting" or "passing wind", is the passing of gas from the digestive system out of the back passage. Flatus is the medical word for gas generated in the intestinal tract. Medical literature describes flatulence as "flatus expelled through the anus".
Flatulence is commonly a source of laughter or embarrassment. Excessive flatulence can cause enormous discomfort and distress, mainly when there are other people around. A bout of flatulence can strike at the most undesirable moments - during a meeting, or even worse in a crowded elevator. In the majority of cases, it is not a serious condition.
Doctors say that in the majority of cases, excessive gas can be controlled with a change of diet and lifestyle. Passing wind is a normal biological process, like sweating, burping or breathing. Everybody farts, even those who seem not to.
The average human passes wind approximately 15 times a day. (NHS, UK)
Why do humans fart?
When we eat, drink or swallow saliva, we also swallow tiny amounts of air. This swallowed air accumulates in the gut. The gas within our digestive system consists mainly of nitrogen and oxygen. When we digest food, gas, mainly in the form of hydrogen, methane and carbon dioxide is released. As the gas builds up, the body may need to get rid of it - this is done by either burping (belching) or flatulence (farting). Many times, flatulence occurs and the person is unaware of it - there is no smell, and the amount is tiny. When there is a smell, there are usually small amounts of sulfur gases. If food has not been digested properly, it starts to decompose (rot), releasing sulfur.
Flatulence signs and symptoms
In the majority of cases, flatulence is nothing to worry about; it is a normal human condition which can be treated with self-care techniques. Flatulence is not usually a reason to go and see your doctor, unless the symptoms are severe, it occurs too frequently and with a foul smell, or there are some additional symptoms which could indicate the presence of an underlying digestive condition.
A bloated feeling or pains in the abdomen can commonly accompany flatulence. Below are some signs and symptoms of flatulence when they are seen as troublesome:
Episodes of flatulence occur frequently, often involuntarily
When an episode of flatulence occurs, a lot of wind is released
Farting is consistently foul-smelling
There may be sharp, jabbing pains (cramps) in the abdomen. Sometimes they may change location, within the abdomen
A bloated feeling in the abdomen
A knotted sensation in the abdomen.
What causes flatulence?
Flatulence can have several natural causes, and may also be the consequence of a condition that affects the digestive system. Intestinal gas consists of:
Exogenous sources - air that comes in from outside. We swallow it when we eat, drink or swallow saliva. It can occur when we experience nausea or acid reflux and excess saliva is produced.
Endogenous sources - it is produced within the gut. Gas may be produced as a by-product of digestion of certain foods, or when foods are not digested completely. Anything that causes food not to be digested completely by the stomach and/or small intestine can cause flatulence when it reaches the large intestine.
Foods that cause flatulence are generally those high in certain polysaccharides, particularly oligosaccharides, such as inulin. Inulin belongs to a class of dietary fibers known as fructans.
Examples include artichokes, beans, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, cashews, cauliflower, dairy products, garlic, leeks, lentils, oats, onions, radishes, rutabagas, scallions, sweet potatoes, turnips, wheat and yeast (in baked products, such as bread).
Beans - gas builds up inside the gut. Complex carbohydrates in beans are very difficult for humans to digest. They are digested by microorganisms in the gut - gut flora - methane-producing archaea. When the complex carbohydrates reach the lower intestine, bacteria feed on them, during which they produce gas.
Lactose intolerance - when lactose-containing foods, such as milk are consumed, the bacteria feed on the lactose and produce excessive amounts of gas.
Celiac disease - intolerance to gluten, a protein found in barley, wheat and rye. People with this condition who eat foods containing gluten tend to have flatulence problems.
Artificial sweeteners - sorbitol and mannitol are found in candies, chewing-gums and sugar-free sweet foods. A considerable number of people develop either diarrhea, gas or both when they consume these substances.
Fiber supplements - if you add them too rapidly to your diet, especially the ones containing psyllium, they can cause flatulence.
Carbonated drinks - Fizzy drinks and beer may cause a build-up of gas in the intestinal tract.
Some health conditions - sometimes, a more serious chronic condition may be the cause of flatulence. Examples include Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis or diverticulitis.
Antibiotics - these medications can upset the normal intestinal flora (bacterial flora) in the bowel, which can lead to flatulence.
Laxatives - people who take laxatives regularly and in excess have a high risk of developing flatulence.
Constipation - the feces themselves make it harder to expel excess gas, resulting in further accumulation and discomfort.
Gastroenteritis - an infection of the bowel/stomach. In many cases, there is s a lot of gas build-up.
The flatulence itself does not require a diagnosis, if the patient is passing wind a lot, then he/she has flatulence. The doctor may try to find out what the underlying cause might be.
The doctor will check the patient's medical history, ask questions about dietary habits, and carry out a physical exam. He/she will check to determine whether there is any distension in the abdomen and listen for a hollow sound by tapping the abdomen (a hollow sound usually means there is gas).
The doctor may also ask about the patient's bowel movements, whether there is any straining when passing a stool, or whether there is abdominal pain after meals. These kinds of questions may help the doctor decide whether the patient might be suffering from IBS (irritable bowel syndrome).
If additional signs and symptoms are detected, the doctor may refer the patient to a specialist for an endoscopy - for an internal examination. An endoscope is a long, thin tube with a camera and light at the end.
Treatment options for flatulence
In most cases, a change in lifestyle and diet is all that is needed.
Diet and digestion
Avoid eating the foods listed in the "causes of flatulence" that have high levels of unabsorbable carbohydrates. Ask your doctor or a qualified dietitian for advice. It is important that your diet contains your daily nutritional requirements in calories, vitamins, minerals, etc. The following carbohydrate foods are easier to digest bananas, citrus fruits, grapes, lettuce, rice and yogurt (not if you are lactose intolerant; check with a nutritionist).
Eat smaller meals - many people find that their symptoms improve if they eat four to six smaller meals per day, rather than three large ones. Peppermint tea has been known to help.
Eat slowly - don't gulp the food down. Digestion starts in your mouth, chew your food slowly before you swallow it.
Avoid chewing gum - eating chewing gum makes people swallow more air, something a person with flatulence needs to avoid.
Dairy products - if you are not sure whether you are lactose intolerant, try buying low-lactose milk and dairy products. If your symptoms improve, it is possible you are. Supplements of lactase, an enzyme which helps digest lactose may help.
Beans - if the beans are fermented before cooking them, the amount of soluble fiber goes down, while their nutritional quality is enhanced.
Exercise - apart from being good for the health, exercise helps the proper functioning of the digestive system, the elimination of gas, and bloating.
Smoking - smoking makes people swallow more air; it can also irritate the digestive system. Giving up smoking may help some people.
Remedies for flatulence
Charcoal tablets - available OTC (over-the-counter) at pharmacies. Charcoal absorbs the gas in your gut, thus reducing the symptoms of flatulence. However, check with your doctor or a qualified pharmacist if you are on any prescription medications, because charcoal may also absorb some of the active ingredient.
Charcoal pads - if placed inside clothing they absorb released gas, thus helping reduce the impact of foul-smelling farts.
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