Issue Flatulence is a problem many face. Doctors provide tips on how to deal with the condition

E ver been in a position where you're in so much discomfort it hurts, and the only temporary relief you get is when you pass gas? You're not exactly alone. Borrowing the title of a popular album, one could describe flatulence as ‘Nothing but wind', but it is not a problem to be laughed at. Says S. Selvakumar, consultant surgical gastroenterologist, Selvarangam Hospital Institute of Liver and Digestive Diseases: “Flatulence is a normal biological process that happens 12 to 24 times a day. The problem is with excessive flatulence — it is socially unacceptable, offensive and quite embarrassing.”

What causes flatulence? Says Dr. Selvakumar: “There are two main causes — swallowing more air than usual, as can happen while chewing gum, smoking cigars and pipes, sucking on hard candy, and consuming fizzy drinks; the second is the release of endogenous gases (an offshoot  of eating hard-to-digest  foods or incomplete digestion).”

He continues: “Most of the food we eat are carbohydrates — a portion of which escapes assimilation and passes down into the colon which is a home to yeast and over a hundred types of bacteria .The bacteria begin to break down carbohydrates, producing gas.”

Eating food in a hurried manner results in one swallowing a lot of air without one's knowledge. Only a portion of this is absorbed in the blood — the rest has to be belched out or passed as flatus, says S. Palaniappan, medical gastroenterologist, Global Hospitals.

What are the foods one has to avoid to prevent the occurrence of flatulence? Says Dr. Selvakumar: “Beans, lentils, dairy products, onion, garlic, scallions, leeks, turnips, radish, potatoes, sweet potatoes, cashew, oats, wheat and yeast are causative factors.” Slimming products that contain sugar substitutes such as sorbitol or fructose too play a part. So do cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage and Brussels sprouts.

Does age, lifestyle or pregnancy have a bearing on flatulence? “Excessive flatulence can be associated with the extremes of age due to inadequate digestive enzymes, disturbed bowel movement, motility and certain drugs. People who lead a sedentary existence and those whose meal times are irregular are predisposed to this condition. So are women in the early stages of pregnancy,” notes Dr. Selvakumar.

There's good news, though. People with excessive flatulence respond to lifestyle modifications and home remedies. “Only when flatulence is accompanied by persistent abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhoea, constipation, blood in the stools, weight loss and infections that cause fever and vomiting is it necessary to press the panic button,” says Dr. Selvakumar.