Flatulence is the name given to excess wind which is relieved either by belching or by passing wind through the anus. Flatulence can also be accompanied by abdominal discomfort, tenderness, bloating and feelings of fullness and increased pressure.

Passing wind is a normal bodily function. However, excessive flatulence can be embarrassing especially if it is noisy or smelly.

Causes

Flatulence is caused by the build-up of gas in the stomach and intestines. After food is chewed and swallowed, it travels into the stomach and then into the small intestine where it is digested and absorbed. Waste matter such as dietary fibre and some carbohydrates move along into the large intestine. Here, bacteria break down the waste even further and in doing so, gases such as hydrogen, methane, carbon dioxide and others are produced. Most of these gases are either absorbed into the blood or breathed out of the mouth but some are passed as wind. This is known as flatulence.Some things can increase the amount of gas produced in the intestine:

  • certain foods produce more gas than others when they are broken down. Gas-forming foods include beans, onions, cabbage, cauliflower, turnips, garlic, leeks, sprouts, spicy foods, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds and fennel seeds. Certain foods such as onions, garlic, fennel, spices, beer, white wine and fruit juices can produce particularly smelly gases. Most of these foods are healthy so it is not a good idea to avoid all of them, just try to avoid those foods which are known to make your symptoms worse
  • sorbitol, an artificial sweetener found in some reduced-sugar jams, sugar-free sweets and sugar-free chewing gum, is known to increase the amount of gas produced in the intestine. Because of their fizzy nature, carbonated drinks may also increase the risk of flatulence

Flatulence can be a symptom of an underlying condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, coeliac disease, Crohn's disease, colitis or lactose intolerance (the inability to digest the sugar found in milk).Swallowing air when eating and drinking can add to the amount of gas contained within the intestine. Gulping air is more likely if you eat or drink quickly or if you are under stress.Poor eating habits can have a huge impact upon the amount of gas produced in the intestine. Over-indulgence and rushing meals are particularly bad habits. The more food that is eaten and the quicker it is eaten, the longer it will take to digest. This increases the amount of gases produced as a result of bacteria breaking the food down.

Lack of exercise can also make flatulence worse.

Treatment

Antiflatulents or antifoaming agents such as simethicone can help to relieve flatulence. They work by forcing the tiny air bubbles which are trapped in the stomach and intestines to combine into one large bubble. This large air bubble passes out of the body by burping or passing wind. Ask your pharmacist to suggest a suitable product for you.Activated charcoal can help to relieve flatulence. It is available as tablets or biscuits and works by absorbing the gases produced in the intestine. These products are available from all pharmacies.

Avoiding Flatulence

  • eat a healthy, well-balanced dietavoid foods which are known to make your symptoms worse. It may be useful to keep a diary of what you eat and when you suffer from excess wind to try and establish a patterneat small, regular meals instead of large mealsdo not eat late at nightdo not rush meals and try to take some time to relax after a meal to 'let your dinner go down'take regular exerciseif you are overweight, try to lose weightmake a conscious effort not to gulp air when you eat
  • sit upright when you are eating, do not slouch

When To See A Doctor

If you suffer from severe, ongoing bouts of wind and you are worried by your symptoms, ask your doctor for advice.

Additional Information

For more information about flatulence and other digestive disorders, contact The Digestive Disorders Foundation, 3 St Andrews Place, London, NW1 4LB. Tel: 0171 486 0341. Or visit their website at www.digestivedisorders.org.uk <http://www.digestivedisorders.org.uk>.

Leaflets on diarrhoea, constipation, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome are also available from this pharmacy.