What is flatulence? Flatulence is the expulsion of gas from the gastrointestinal tract through the rectum. Daily, the average person produces one to four pints of gas and expels it up to 14 times. Although flatulence can cause embarrassment to some people, it is a natural occurrence (Source: NDDIC). Eating certain foods or drinking carbonated beverages can introduce air into the stomach and increase flatulence. You may also swallow air when you eat too quickly or when you chew gum. Because infants frequently swallow air when feeding, they may have flatulence after they have been fed. The act of burping an infant helps relieve the discomfort caused by swallowed air. Flatulence is also caused by the passage of undigested food from the small intestine to the large intestine. Bacteria in the large intestine process the food and produce harmless gases, such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane, which are released as gas through the rectum. Certain foods, including carbohydrates, fiber and sugars, are more likely than other foods to produce gas. Many different types of gastrointestinal conditions and diseases can cause flatulence. Flatulence may occur with conditions that slow digestion, such as gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), and mechanical obstructions, such as pyloric obstruction (blockage between the stomach and small intestine). Pregnant women may also experience flatulence due to hormonal changes that slow the digestive process. Flatulence can also arise from conditions that impair the normal digestive process in other ways, such as acid reflux, hiatal hernia, or stomach acid deficiency. Flatulence is rarely associated with a medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your flatulence is associated with severe abdominal pain, chest pain, persistent nausea and vomiting, or high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit). Seek prompt medical care if your flatulence is persistent or causes you concern. What other symptoms might occur with flatulence? Flatulence may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems. Digestive symptoms that may occur along with flatulence Flatulence may accompany other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including: Abdominal swelling, distension or bloating Bad breath Belching Change in bowel habits Constipation Diarrhea Heartburn Nausea with or without vomiting Other symptoms that may occur along with flatulence Flatulence may accompany symptoms related to other body systems. Flatulence can occur as a nervous habit and may be associated with generalized symptoms including: Anxiety Emotional stress Nervousness Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition Flatulence is rarely a sign of a medical emergency. In some cases, however, flatulence may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including: Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit) Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking Severe abdominal pain Vomiting blood, rectal bleeding, or bloody stool What causes flatulence? Flatulence and belching are natural occurrences that result from eating or drinking too quickly. Eating certain foods or drinking carbonated beverages can also introduce air into the stomach and cause flatulence. Because infants frequently swallow air when feeding, they may have flatulence after they have been fed. The act of burping an infant helps relieve the discomfort caused by swallowed air. Flatulence is also caused by the passage of undigested food from the small intestine to the large intestine. Bacteria in the large intestine process the food and produce harmless gases, such as carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and methane, which are released as gas through the rectum. Certain foods, such as carbohydrates, fiber and sugars, are more likely than other foods to cause gas. Food causes of flatulence Flatulence may be caused by eating certain foods including: Fiber, especially soluble forms of fiber, which passes undigested until it reaches the large intestine Starchy foods, such as breads and rice Sugars, including fructose (found in some foods and sweeteners), lactose (found in dairy products), raffinose (found in brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, and beans), and sorbitol (found in fruits and artificial sweeteners) Gastrointestinal causes of flatulence Almost any condition affecting the digestive tract can cause flatulence. These include conditions in which the normal movement or flow in the digestive tract is obstructed, interrupted or delayed. Examples include gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying), intestinal obstruction, hiatal hernia, and gastrointestinal reflux disease (also known as GERD). In other types of disorders, the enzymes or processes that are needed to digest food completely are either deficient or absent. Examples include food intolerance and gallbladder disease. Flatulence can be caused by many conditions affecting the digestive tract including: Bowel obstruction Food allergies (allergic reactions to certain foods) or food intolerances (difficulty digesting certain foods without symptoms of a food allergy) Gallbladder disease Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) Gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) Gastroparesis (delayed stomach emptying) Hiatal hernia Malabsorption Pancreatic disease Peptic ulcer disease Pregnancy Tumors of the gastrointestinal tract Serious or life-threatening causes of flatulence Flatulence is a normal body process that is rarely serious in nature. However, in rare cases, flatulence may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include: Abdominal abscess Obstruction of the digestive tract Questions for diagnosing the cause of flatulence To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your flatulence including: How long have you experienced flatulence? Does your flatulence worsen when you consume certain foods or drinks? Are you experiencing any other symptoms along with your flatulence? Is your flatulence becoming worse or more frequent? What are the potential complications of flatulence? Flatulence is generally a harmless symptom that does not produce long-term complications. However, some of the gastrointestinal conditions associated with flatulence may have serious complications as a result of the underlying disease rather than the symptom of flatulence itself. For example, intestinal obstruction due to cancer is a condition that can have long-term and potentially serious or life-threatening complications.