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Flatulence (Gas) (cont.)

What is flatulence or intestinal gas?

The definition of flatulence is gas (generated during digestion or waste gases), usually in excess, that is present in the intestinal tract and usually removed from the body by passing out through the anus, often accompanied by sound and odor when the gas is expelled by the body. Common terms for flatulence include terms such as farts, breaking wind, and passing gas. Some individuals include belching (passing gases from the stomach through the mouth) under flatulence.

  • 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.

A condition termed "vaginal flatulence" is the release of air trapped in the vagina during or after sexual intercourse that sounds like flatulence when expelled from the vagina, but does not contain waste gases and has no specific odor. It is not flatulence, but termed so because of the sound emitted when the air escapes the vagina.

How much flatulence or gas does a person pass per day?

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.

What is excessive flatulence or intestinal gas?

Excessive gas or flatulence is defined by some researchers as passing gas more than 20 times per day. Increased flatulence occurs when a person passes gas more than about 14 times a day and extreme flatulence is ill-defined but occasionally used to describe excessive and/or constant passing of gas and is occasionally related to excessively smelly gas production. Chronic flatulence is also not well defined but is used to describe excessive flatulence that may occur daily over weeks to years.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/1/2016

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