Intestinal Gas (Flatulence)
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WHAT IS INTESTINAL GAS?
Intestinal gas is the passage of air or gas from the intestines out through the rectum. Another term for passing gas is flatulence.
It is normal to pass gas 8 to 20 times a day. Gas is usually not a sign of a problem unless the gas smells unusually foul or happens much more often than usual.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
Some of the gas in the intestine comes from air that you have swallowed. You may swallow large amounts of air if you eat or drink quickly. Babies swallow air when crying or feeding. Some people have a nervous habit of swallowing air all day, especially in times of stress. If you are sitting or standing, swallowed air can be released through your mouth in a belch. However, each time you belch, you swallow more air. When you lie down, the air may instead pass through the intestines and out of the rectum.
Another cause of gas in the intestines is the digestive process itself. Bacteria in the intestines make gas as they break down food. Gas formed by bacteria in the digestive process is always passed through the rectum rather than the mouth. Some foods are more likely than others to cause gas. For example, some people lose the ability to digest milk as they grow up. These people have belly pain and gas, even diarrhea, when they eat or drink milk or other dairy products.
Some medicines can make passing gas more frequent or painful.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms may include:
- Frequent passage of gas out of the rectum
- Belly pain that is relieved by the passage of gas
HOW IS IT TREATED?
Most of the time, you don’t need to see your healthcare provider for treatment. Here are some things you can do to relieve gas:
- Chew your food longer and sip fluids slowly.
- Try to avoid frequent sighing or chewing gum. These can cause you to swallow air.
- Notice which foods cause gas for you and avoid those foods. A change in eating habits and diet will usually take care of most gas problems. You can try cutting out one kind of food at a time and see if your gas problem gets better. Some foods that commonly cause gas are:
- Dairy products (except yogurt)
- Vegetables such as beans, cauliflower, peas, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and onions
- Bran and whole grains, especially if you are not used to eating bran or whole grains or eat more of them than usual
- Fruits such as pears, apples, and peaches
- Carbonated drinks and beer
- Dried fruits
- Sugar substitutes, such as sorbitol, in sugar-free foods and candies
- You can buy nonprescription medicines to help reduce symptoms, including antacids with simethicone and activated charcoal. Digestive enzymes, such as lactase supplements, may allow you to eat foods that normally cause gas.
- If you keep having problems with gas, see your healthcare provider to check for other possible causes.