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Gas - flatulence

Definition

Gas, also called flatus or flatulence, is air in the intestine that is passed through the rectum. Air that is passed from the digestive tract through the mouth is called belching.

Alternative Names

Flatulence (flatus)

Considerations

Gas is formed in the intestines as food is being digested. Gas can make you feel bloated, which may cause crampy or colicky abdominal pain.

Common Causes

Gas can be caused by any of the following:

  • Antibiotics
  • Eating foods that are difficult to digest, such as fiber. If you recently introduced fiber into your diet, having gas may be temporary. Give it a little time. Your body may adjust and stop producing gas.
  • Eating foods that you cannot tolerate -- for example, if you have lactose intolerance and eat dairy products
  • Irritable bowel syndrome -- a chronic form of stomach upset that gets worse with stress
  • Malabsorption (when your body cannot absorb or digest a particular nutrient properly, often accompanied by diarrhea)
  • Swallowing air while eating

Home Care

  • Avoid beans, cabbage, and carbonated beverages.
  • Avoid gum chewing.
  • Chew your food thoroughly.
  • Eat more slowly.
  • Relax while you eat.
  • Walk for 10 - 15 minutes after eating.

Call your health care provider if

Call your doctor if:

  • You have other symptoms in addition to gas, like abdominal or rectal pain, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation, or weight loss
  • You have oily, foul-smelling, or bloody stools

What to expect at your health care provider's office

Your doctor will perform a physical examination with special attention to your abdomen, and ask questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • What is your diet like?
  • Has it recently changed?
  • What foods do you eat commonly?
  • What foods have you eaten recently?
  • Have you increased the fiber in your diet?
  • How fast do you eat, chew, and swallow?
  • Would you say that your gas is mild or severe?
  • Does your gas seem to be related to eating milk products or other specific foods?
  • What seems to make your gas better?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Do you have other symptoms like abdominal pain, diarrhea, early satiety (premature fullness after meals), bloating, or weight loss?

Diagnostic tests that may be performed include:

References

Bailey J. FPIN's Clinical Inquiries: Effective management of flatulence. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79:1098-1100.

Ohge H, Levitt MD. Intestinal gas. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2006:chap 10.


Review Date: 4/12/2010
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine; and George F. Longstreth, MD, Department of Gastroenterology, Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program, San Diego, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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