Gas (Flatus)


Flatus is the medical word for the gas manufactured in the stomach and intestines. It’s produced as food is broken down into usable energy. Bacteria in the colon ferment carbohydrates that were not absorbed in the small intestine. It’s normal to pass gas from the intestine 6-30 times per day. The amount of gas and the types of foods which produce gas vary among individuals, as do the foods which produce malodorous gas.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Symptoms include voluntary and involuntary passing of gas as burps (eructations) or from the intestine as flatus. Some people experience sharp pains or cramping, anywhere in the abdomen and traveling within the abdomen. Gas pain can be intense but is usually brief. When the gas is gone pain ceases. Distension and tightness in the abdomen may occur (bloating.) Gas can be mistaken for heart disease, gallstones, appendicitis and other diseases, and the diseases may be mistaken for gas. Medical attention should be sought when these conditions accompanied by gas: severe, prolonged or recurrent abdominal pain, nausea or vomiting, weight loss, fever, chest pain, or bloody stools.

A physician can usually identify the source of the excess gas by the patient’s medical history, reviewing dietary habits and physical examination. At times, some additional testing may be indicated in a search for underlying disease.


High-fiber foods help regulate blood sugar and cholesterol, and stimulate regular bowel movements. Although desirable as nutrients, high-fiber foods are the greatest gas producers, and may cause abdominal pain. Some of the high-fiber sources are fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans and peas (legumes.) Fiber supplements containing psyllium, such as Metamucil, can be a source of excess gas, especially if introduced to the diet too quickly. Carbonated beverages, such as soda and beer, can cause excess gas. Swallowing air occurs with eating and drinking too fast, chewing gum, sucking on candy or drinking through a straw. Some chronic medical conditions, such as diverticulitis or inflammatory bowel disease (ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease), are more serious causes of excess gas production.

Antibiotics may cause gas by disrupting the normal bacterial balance in the colon. Constipation can make it difficult to pass gas, causing bloating and discomfort. The excessive use of laxatives can also cause excess gas.

A common food intolerance is to lactose, the sugar in cow’s milk. Many people aren’t able to digest lactose efficiently after age 6, and even some infants are lactose intolerant. Gluten, a protein found in wheat and some other grains can result in excess gas, diarrhea and weight loss. Artificial sweeteners such as sorbitol and mannitol, found in some sugar-free foods and beverages, often cause excess gas. Continue reading for Prevention and Treatment Information . . .

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