What is flatulence? Symptoms, causes and prevention

Flatulence refers to the biological process of passing gas from the digestive system out through the back passage. It is a normal process that we all experience and typically refer to as ‘farting’ or ‘passing wind’. However, excessive flatulence can be uncomfortable and affect a person’s social life. There can be several reasons for excessive flatulence, which can be assessed and prevented with certain lifestyle changes or treatment of any underlying health conditions causing the issue. This guide will explore flatulence, highlighting the causes, symptoms and prevention/treatments available.

What is flatulence?

Flatulence typically occurs when gas or air is present in the digestive tract. This is typically due to small amounts of air being swallowed while eating or drinking. Gas also develops in the digestive tract in order to digest food. The body then needs to release this gas either through flatulence or belching. It is a healthy bodily process that occurs to all of us on a daily basis. Flatulence commonly occurs from 5-15 times per day, which may be unnoticeable as gas is often released in small quantities and is odourless.

What are the symptoms of flatulence?

Flatulence is a normal process supporting digestion. However, the symptoms of excessive flatulence may include:

  • Frequently passing wind
  • Smelly / loud flatus
  • Distended abdomen
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Rumblings in the lower abdomen

What are the causes of flatulence?

Air

The most common cause of flatulence is air being swallowed while eating and/or drinking. While we all swallow a certain amount of air when we eat and drink, some people swallow excessive amounts of air due to:

  • Eating and/or drinking too fast
  • Eating and/or drinking too much
  • Talking while eating and/or drinking
  • Chewing gum
  • Smoking
  • Drinking fizzy drinks

While flatulence caused by those reasons is no cause for concern and typically subsides quickly, it can be uncomfortable and interfere with daily life activities.

Diet

Certain foods can cause excessive gas. These include beans, broccoli, raisins, cabbage, lentils, prunes, apples and fruit juices. Such foods typically take a long time to be digested, which can cause excess gas.

Medical causes

Although flatulence is very common and typically does not indicate a medical condition, it may be caused or aggravated by one of the following potential underlying health issues:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (for instance Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis)
  • Coeliac disease (gluten intolerance)
  • Food intolerance
  • Parasite infection in the intestines (giardiasis)
  • Hormonal fluctuations in women
  • Eating disorders
  • Mental health problems
  • Side effects of some medications

Such health issues can be contained or treated in order to live a normal life and reduce the symptoms of flatulence.

How to prevent and treat flatulence

Prevention

Flatulence caused by swallowing excessive amounts of air can be prevented with simple lifestyle changes, including:

  • Avoid chewing gum
  • Avoid fizzy drinks
  • Avoid gas-causing foods
  • Avoid drinking through a straw
  • Eat slower
  • Eat smaller portions
  • Add probiotics to your diet (fermented foods, supplements)
  • Eat dairy-free and lactose-free foods if you are intolerant

Treatment

If the lifestyle changes above mentioned aren’t sufficient to relieve excessive flatulence, you may need to consult your GP to establish the cause. Treatment will depend on what is causing your flatulence problems. A food intolerance test may be the first step to establish any sensitivities and help you adjust your diet accordingly. You can also opt for over-the-counter medicines such as charcoal tablets or simethicone, which can help relieve excessive flatulence.

You should see your GP if you experience the following extra symptoms:

  • Persistent abdominal pain
  • Persistent diarrhoea or constipation
  • Bowel incontinence
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Blood in the stools
  • High temperature
  • Vomiting

How can I get tested for flatulence?

At a clinic

You can opt for our Digestion and Nutrition Essential plan, which includes a lactose intolerance test, a stomach cancer risk test, a gluten intolerance test, and a calprotectin test to check for signs of Crohn’s disease, IBD and IBS. Our health checks consist of in-depth, face-to-face health checks with one of our Health Assessment Specialists, which you can easily book online at one of over 2,000 mobile clinics available nationwide. You will receive a wide array of other key health markers and a detailed results report sent through the post.