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Flatulence (Gas) (cont.)

When to Seek Medical Care for Flatulence (Gas)

Seek medical attention whenever symptoms other than simply excess flatulence occur such as:

  • Severe crampy abdominal discomfort
  • Change in bowel habits
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Blood in the stool
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain and swelling, particularly in the right lower part of the abdomen
  • Chronic flatulence

Flatulence (Gas) Diagnosis

A health care professional may review what patient eats and the symptoms produced. The patient might be instructed to keep a food and drink diary for a specific period of time and track the passage of gas during the day. Careful review of diet and the amount of gas passed may help relate specific foods to symptoms and determine the severity of the problem.

The primary tests, if necessary, will likely include measuring the amount of hydrogen in the patient's breath after the person eats suspected foods. Because bacteria are largely responsible for the production of hydrogen, an increase in exhaled hydrogen as measured by the breath test will suggest food intolerance, with the bacteria fermenting the undigested food to produce excess gas. After the patient eats a problem food, breath testing should show an increase in hydrogen in as little as 2 hours.

Another possible test is analysis of flatus for gas content. This should help differentiate gas produced by swallowing air from gas produced in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

If these tests produce no diagnosis, more broad testing can be accomplished to help exclude more serious disorders such as diabetes, cancer, malabsorption, cirrhosis of the liver, poor thyroid function, and infection.

If a patient has abdominal pain or appears to have a swollen abdomen, the health care professional may have X-rays taken to show intestinal obstruction or perforation. X-rays can also be taken after the patient drinks X-ray dye to show the GI tract, which can be followed up with an internal view of the colon through colonoscopy, if problems are noted.

If lactase deficiency is the suspected cause of gas, the health care professional may suggest the patient avoid milk products for a period of time. A blood or breath test may be used to diagnose lactose intolerance.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/11/2015

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