What is flatulence?
Flatulence is the passing of wind (air or gas) from the intestine and through the anus. It is often accompanied by a sound and smell. Flatulence is commonly called farting, breaking or passing wind, or flatus.
Most people pass wind between 7 and 12 times a day. But excessive flatulence can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, and can sometimes indicate a medical problem.
What symptoms are associated with flatulence?
There are usually no symptoms when flatulence is at a normal level. You might not even notice when you pass wind for much of the time. But if you have excessive flatulence, you might:
- break wind more often
- have pain, bloating or rumbling in the abdomen
- notice that your farts are loud and smelly
What are the causes of flatulence?
When food is broken down and digested in the intestines, some gases are created — that is normal. The average person creates more than 2 litres of gas every day.
The amount of gas you create is influenced by what you eat and drink. Several high-fibre foods, carbonated drinks and artificial sweeteners can cause excessive flatulence. It can also be caused by:
- fresh and dried fruits, such as apples, pears and raisins
- nuts and seeds
- beans and peas and some other vegetables
- eating dairy if you have lactose intolerance
- medical conditions like irritable bowel syndrome
- medications such as some antibiotics, cholestyramine and orlistat
- food additives
- swallowing air if you are anxious, or if you eat quickly, smoke or chew gum
Gas can also be caused by problems with the gut, such as:
- lactose intolerance (not being able to digest dairy foods)
- gluten intolerance (not being able to digest foods that contain wheat, barley, oats and rye)
How can I reduce flatulence?
There is no simple solution to excessive flatulence since foods affect people’s digestion differently. A useful approach is to work out which foods seem to cause the problem for an individual, and either to avoid them altogether or cut back. But be aware that high-fibre foods form part of a healthy diet.
The low FODMAP diet can help control flatulence and bloating if you have irritable bowel syndrome.
You can also decrease flatulence by avoiding chewing gum, fizzy drinks, foods with artificial sweeteners and smoking. Relaxing when you eat and eating slowly can also help.
You could discuss with your doctor or pharmacist whether to take over-the-counter antacids or activated charcoal tablets. This may benefit some people.
When should I see my doctor?
You should see your doctor if you have severe flatulence, especially if you also have other digestive problems, such as constipation, diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, bloating, weight loss or blood in the stool.
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Last reviewed: June 2021