Flatulence is passing gas from the digestive system out of the back passage. It is more commonly known as "passing wind", or "farting".
Farting is often something laughed about, but excessive flatulence can be embarrassing and make you feel uncomfortable around others. However, it can usually be controlled with changes to your diet and lifestyle.
Flatulence is a normal biological process and is something everyone experiences regularly. Some people pass wind only a few times a day, others a lot more, but the average is said to be about 15 times a day.
Why it happens
When you swallow food, water or saliva, you also swallow small amounts of air, which collects in the digestive system. Gases can also build up when you digest food.
The body needs to get rid of the build-up by farting (flatulence) or burping (belching).
Sometimes, you may not notice you have passed wind because most of the gases are odourless and are often released in small quantities.
Flatulence usually only has a bad smell if it contains gases that smell, such as sulphur. However, it is important to remember that it is normal for the gas you pass to sometimes smell a bit.
Excessive flatulence can be caused by swallowing more air than usual or eating food that is difficult to digest. It can also be related to an underlying health problem that affects the digestive system, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Read more about the causes of flatulence.
When to see your GP
There are no medical guidelines defining what the normal frequency or volume of flatulence is. You are therefore probably the best person to assess your own symptoms.
You should see your GP if your flatulence is particularly troublesome, such as frequently passing smelly gas, for example.
You should also visit your GP if you experience additional symptoms, such as:
These symptoms could be an indicator of a more serious health problem and require investigation, such as a blood or stool test to look for an infection.
Controlling the problem
Excessive flatulence can usually be controlled by making changes to your diet and lifestyle, such as:
- avoiding foods known to cause flatulence
- eating smaller and more frequent meals
- eating and drinking slowly
- exercising regularly
There are also some over-the-counter medications that can help if your flatulence is troublesome, such as charcoal tablets or simethicone.
If your flatulence is related to an underlying health problem, treating the condition may help resolve the problem.
Read more about treating flatulence.
Digestive complaints such as constipation, diarrhoea, heartburn and bloating are incredibly common but usually treatable
Page last reviewed: 25/04/2013
Next review due: 25/04/2015