Help! I can’t stop farting!

Q: Help! I farted in class and someone heard me!  What can I do to get rid of my gas??

A: Believe it or not, the normal frequency of passing gas is 14-23 times per day!  There are two major sources of intestinal gas: swallowed air and gas produced by bacteria in the colon.  Most people who have problems with gas don’t actually have excess gas in their intestines, but rather an increased sensitivity to normal amounts of gas. 

If you’re farting more often than 24 times a day (that’s not a challenge, guys) or you’re having difficulty keeping it from happening at inopportune times, you should take a look at what you’re eating and how fast you’re eating it. 

Air swallowing is the major source of gas in the stomach.  It’s normal to swallow some air while eating, but drinking carbonated beverages, drinking through a straw, chewing gum and eating too quickly can cause you to swallow an excessive amount of air.  Most swallowed air is released through burping, but what doesn’t come up must go down.

Certain high-fiber and carbohydrate containing foods such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, beans, broccoli, and some whole grains may not break down well in your digestive tract.  When they come into contact with the bacteria in your colon they ferment and produce lots of gas, as artfully demonstrated in the following classic scene from Blazing Saddles

(C’mon - there had to be a fart joke in here somewhere and this is the Mona Lisa of fart jokes!  Question the taste and maturity level of the clip all you want, but I’ll bet you a bottle of Bean-O you laughed…) 

If you’re having uncomfortable amounts of gas and bloating, you can do some things to help.  In addition to avoiding the above mentioned foods and activities, you should:

  • Increase your non-carbonated fluid intake, particularly water
  • Minimize alcohol consumption
  • Eat slowly and chew your food thoroughly
  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products
  • Keep calm – tension can cause you to swallow air
  • Exercise regularly
  • Avoid dairy products if you are lactose intolerant

Some over-the-counter medications may also help:

  • Simethicone containing products (Maalox Anti-Gas, Mylanta Gas, Gas-X, Phazyme) cause gas bubbles to break up, which may decrease discomfort
  • Bean-O is an enzyme supplement that helps break down carbohydrates and may help if your gas is caused by foods such as beans and broccoli
  • A lactase supplement (LactAid) will help gas caused by lactose intolerance

Of course, excessive intestinal gas may also be a sign of a more serious problem.  If the above steps don’t help, be sure to come and see us at the Student Health Center.

Angela Walker, Med IV (Ohio State College of Medicine)

John A. Vaughn, MD (Ohio State Student Health Services)

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