What Can You Do About Irritable Bowel Flatulence

By Susan Reynolds

Many people suffer from the problem of flatulence, which is the act of expelling intestinal gas from the rectum. There are only two sources of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, swallowed air that enters the stomach, mostly gulped while eating or drinking, and the gas produced by bacteria present in the intestines, primarily the colon. The air that we swallow is rarely the cause of excessive flatulence. It mainly occurs due to the over-production of gas by the intestinal bacteria present in the large intestine or colon. Sometimes, flatulence is associated with some specific conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. People who suffer from irritable bowel flatulence may also experience other symptoms such as abdominal pain, bloating, and abnormal bowel habits such as diarrhea or constipation.

In the digestion process, the food that is not digested in the small intestine, primarily sugars and polysaccharides (e.g. starch, cellulose), is digested by the bacteria present in the large intestine. In this process, bacteria produce different gases such as hydrogen, methane, etc. Lactose, sorbitol and fructose are the main sugars that are poorly digested.

The amount of gas produced by the bacteria varies from person to person. Some people have more bacteria in their colon, which results in more production of gas. Some people have particular bacteria that produce more gas. In some people, digestion of food in the small intestines is not complete, which can also effect the levels of gas produced.

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Conditions such as lactose intolerance, and celiac disease may also result in poor digestion. Since more undigested food reaches to the bacteria in the colon, it results in more gas. Some people suffer the spreading of gas-producing bacteria from large intestine into the small intestine. Therefore, the food reaches the bacteria before its complete digestion or absorption by the small intestine, and this increased volume of undigested foods which is available to the bacteria produces more gas also.

Excessive flatulence can also be associated with eating of particular type of food. For example, eating beans can lead to excessive flatulence.

The unused gas distends the intestine. The intestinal muscles contract and push the gas further along the intestine until the gas is finally expelled. People who have constipation as the main symptom in irritable bowel syndrome experience more flatulence and generally pass more gas than those who don’t.

For those with a hypersensitive intestinal tract, like those with IBS, the build up of gas can trigger other IBS symptoms.

There are a number of options available to a person with excessive flatulence, which include the identification of the foods that seem to cause the problems, and reducing the volume eaten of these foods. They can often be reintroduced slowly at a later stage.

While evaluating the problem of excessive flatulence in a person, the physician may ask the patient to count the number of times he/she passes gas for several days.

It helps in confirming the presence of excessive flatulence since the count correlates well with the total amount (volume) of gas passed. It is normal to pass gas about 20 times a day. However, it is not always easy to measure the amount of passed gas. If an individual passes gas less than 20 times a day but complains of excessive gas, the problem might be something other than excessive gas. For example, the lack of ability to control the passing of gas or the foul odor of the gas might be the main problem.

Such problems are also socially embarrassing and may prompt individuals to consult a physician. These problems are not correlated to excessive gas production or Irritable Bowel Flatulence and have different treatments.

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