Farting – how much is normal and what can I do about it?

Q: What can I do for THE BLOAT? After I eat, it’s like I’m pregnant and I fart for like three hours!

A: Few benign things elicit such concern in the exam room as THE BLOAT. The stories from patients, genuinely miserable and clutching their bellies, are eerily similar: 

“I eat, drink, and a few hours later I swell up like a balloon.”

“I am a human zeppelin!”

“My boyfriend thinks I’m pregnant!”

“I have to unbutton my pants until I poop.”

“It’s disgusting what comes out of me.”

“It can’t be normal.”

“The covers nearly fly off the bed.”

“I thought I’d explode.”

There are some uncommon and concerning problems that can cause intestinal distress and gas: lactose intolerance, malabsorption syndromes like celiac disease, Crohn’s Disease or ulcerative colitis, and bacterial overgrowth syndrome to name but a few. But these problems almost always have other, non-intestinal symptoms like rash, joint problems, anemia, or debilitating diarrhea.

Usually though, abdominal fullness and gas are our own fault. We just can’t help it. Every bite of food and every sip of liquid delivers a few milliliters of air to our gut, more if we gulp or chug. Certain foods-beer, broccoli, those beans and whole grains we health care providers just love to tell you to eat-create a lot more air in the colon.

Fun Fart Facts:

  • There are actually people studying how much intestinal gas is normal using argon washout and body plethsymography. (And you think working in your lab sucks…) The best they can determine, about 200cc (a little more than half a can of Coke) in the gut at any one time is pretty typical.
  • The amount of air coming out from the rectum (Look out below!) varies between 500 and 1500ccs a day. That’s right, some people put out almost 2 liters of gas a day.
  • Most people emit their gas, okay FART, 10-20 times a day.
  • We often suggest Beano, simethicone (Gas-X) and activated charcoal, but there’s actually little evidence that they help. Pepto-Bismol, believe it or not, doesn’t decrease gas production but it can make it less stinky.
  • You can actually buy odor-reducing underpants. It’s true. Something to keep in mind for next Father’s Day.
  • Girls fart too!  If you don’t believe us, take it from the MythBusters guys

If your gaseous output is causing you or your loved ones excessive distress, try the following:

  • Eat slowly.
  • Avoid sorbitol (Often found in diet food and chewing gum).
  • For that matter, avoid chewing gum altogether. People who chew gum often swallow more air.
  • Avoid carbonated beverages.
  • For a few days, lay off the cruciferous veggies and legumes.
  • Get some exercise. Skeletal muscle contraction in the belly will help move that bloat along.

If these steps don’t help, or you are experiencing other concerning symptoms, come in and see us.

Victoria Rentel, MD
Student Health Services
The Ohio State University

 

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