What Is It?
Flatulence is the passage of intestinal gas (flatus) through the rectum. Passing gas is normal, and every human being does it at least 14 times a day, consciously or unconsciously. Sometimes flatulence happens more often than expected, and this can become an embarrassing problem. Extreme flatulence can even interfere with a person's ability to work and socialize comfortably with other people.
Most cases of flatulence are related to factors that can be controlled. This is because intestinal gas usually comes from two sources — swallowed air or the work of intestinal bacteria on undigested food.
Swallowing air is one cause of flatulence. Although much of this swallowed air is belched upward through the mouth, a small amount passes into the intestines and out through the rectum. People swallow air in many different ways, particularly by:
Bacteria in the intestines also can produce gas when they process foods that pass into the colon without being digested higher up in the digestive tract. Some common examples of foods that tend to cause gas include:
Less commonly, flatulence can be a side effect of certain medications, especially cholestyramine (Questran), used to treat high cholesterol, or the diet drug orlistat (Xenical). It also can be a symptom of irritable bowel syndrome or giardiasis (a parasitic infection).
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