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Flatulence (Gas)

Flatulence (Gas) Overview

Flatulence is the state of having excessive stomach or intestinal gas. This can result in uncomfortable feelings of bloating, as well as increased belching (burping) or passing of gas from the rectum.

Most people produce about 1-3 pints of gas a day, and pass gas about 14 times a day. Flatulence itself, although not life-threatening, can definitely cause social embarrassment. This embarrassment is often the reason why people might seek medical help for excessive gas.

  • History has numerous anecdotal accounts of flatulence, including Hippocrates himself professing, "Passing gas is necessary to well-being." The Roman Emperor Claudius equally decreed that "all Roman citizens shall be allowed to pass gas whenever necessary."
  • In the mid-1800s flatulence took center stage with the French entertainer Joseph Pugol ("Le Petomane"). Pugol was able to pass gas at will and at varying pitch, thereby playing tunes for sold-out shows at the Moulin Rouge. 
  • More recently, flatulence was immortalized by Mel Brooks in the movie Blazing Saddles with his bean-eating cowboys.

If a person is concerned about excess gas, it is not a laughing matter. It is a medical concern that individual's will want to talk about with a health care professional.

  • The primary components of gas (known as flatus, pronounced FLAY-tuss) are five odorless gases: nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon dioxide, methane, and oxygen.
  • The characteristic smelly odor is attributed to trace gases such as skatole, indole, and sulfur-containing compounds.
  • The flammable character of flatus is caused by hydrogen and methane. The proportions of these gases depend largely on the bacteria that live in the human colon that digest, or ferment, food that has not been absorbed by the gastrointestinal (GI) tract before reaching the colon.
  • An estimated 30-150 grams of this undigested food reach the colon in the form of carbohydrate every day. But this amount can vary with diet and how well the GI tract is functioning.
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