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Flatulence (Gas) (cont.)

What causes excessive flatulence or gas?

Excess gas in the digestive tract (esophagus, stomach, small intestine, and colon/large intestine) can come from two sources: 1) increased intake of gas, for example, from air swallowed; or 2) increased production of gas as certain undigested foods are broken down by harmless bacteria normally found in the colon. Undigested foods may also occur in chronic intestinal problems such as chronic megacolon, patients undergoing chemotherapy or in certain infectious diseases such as giardiasis.

Swallowed air

Swallowed air (aerophagia) can occur with improper swallowing while eating or even unconscious swallowing of air out of habit.

  • Activities that cause a person to swallow air include rapid drinking, chewing gum, use of tobacco products, sucking on hard candy, drinking carbonated beverages, loose dentures, and hyperventilation
  • Most people burp or belch to expel this excess swallowed air. The remaining gas moves into the small intestine. The air moves along to the large intestine for release through the rectum.
  • Analysis of the gas can help determine if it originated from aerophagia (mostly nitrogen, also oxygen, and carbon dioxide) or GI production (mainly carbon monoxide, hydrogen, and methane).

Lactase intolerance

Another major source of flatulence is lactose intolerance, which results in a decreased ability to digest lactose, a natural sugar found in milk and other dairy products such as cheese and ice cream and in certain processed food such as bread, cereal, and salad dressing. This flatulence is often associated with diarrhea and cramping but can appear as only gas. Many people normally have low levels of the enzyme lactase needed to digest lactose after childhood. Also, as people age, their enzyme levels decrease. As a result, over time people may experience increasing amounts of gas after eating food containing lactose, and develop chronic flatulence with gas pain(s). One way to remedy gas pain or get gas pain relief is avoiding foods that contain lactose.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/1/2016

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