By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Flatulence refers to the passing of gas from the digestive system via the back passage, also known of as “passing wind” or “farting.” Flatulence is part of a normal biological process and the average person passes wind around 15 times a day. However, excessive flatulence can become embarrassing and uncomfortable. Diet and lifestyle changes can usually be made to help bring the problem under control.
Cause of flatulence
When food, water or saliva is swallowed, small amounts of air are also swallowed. This air collects in the digestive system. Furthermore, gas can build up as food gets broken down by bacteria in the gut. Accumulated gas can usually be expelled through burping or belching. The passed gas usually only smells when gases such as sulphur are present and in some cases people may not know they have passed wind because the gas is odourless and only passed in small amounts.
Excessive flatulence can occur after swallowing too much air or eating food that is difficult to digest. Underlying conditions that affect the digestive system can also cause flatulence, such as irritable down syndrome.
Need for treatment
There is no official guideline for determining a normal level of flatulence but people are generally advised to see their GP if flatulence is becoming troublesome. People should also see their GP if additional symptoms are present such as continued abdominal bloating, recurrent episodes of constipation and diarrhea, abdominal pain, unexplained weight loss, blood in stools or signs of infection.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jul 2, 2014