While it may be the, er, butt of many jokes, flatulence can be both socially and physically painful. Known by the more common names of “farting” or “passing gas,” flatulence is a normal function of the human (and animal) excretory system that may produce not only an audible sound and unpleasant odor, but occasional rectal moistness as well. While the extra moistness may not be indicative of any alarming medical condition, it can be uncomfortable.
What It Is
Flatulent gas, aka “flatus” in medical terminology, is a combination of hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, methane and carbon dioxide. While flatulence derives its combustible properties from the methane and hydrogen mix, the sulfuric smell is attributed to the inclusion of trace elements of sulfur in the expelled gas. Some degree of rectal moistness is to be expected; however, excess moisture is usually a sign of impending diarrhea.
The main flatus-producing culprit is the bacteria that lives in the stomach and colon and is responsible for the breakdown of digested foods. Undigested sugary compounds such as lactose, sorbitol and fructose, as well as carbohydrate-based foods like wheat or rice, are all known gas-making contributors. Swallowed air becomes trapped in the digestive system and can be expelled as flatulence, although the air cannot be the only cause due to its relatively small presence.
Excessive gas production, thus excessive rectal moisture, is blamed on any one of three main reasons (or combination of). Every individual and animal has a certain amount of digestive bacteria present in their system. Some may have more than others, or the bacteria may be more efficient at breaking down the aforementioned foods, which would produce the gas faster and in greater abundance. Second, undigested food can pass from the stomach to the colon, where the largest amount of bacteria resides, thus creating more gas than usual. Finally, if the bacteria “grows over” its colon confines and moves into the intestines, it will begin digesting food that isn’t ready for digesting, creating the additional gas buildup
Many doctors advise patients complaining of excess gas to modify their diet, excluding lactose-containing dairy products to rule out (or confirm) a digestive intolerance to the sugar. Reducing consumption of the starches and carbohydrates related to flatulence is the norm, although eliminating these from the diet are nearly impossible as the foods are abundant and nutritionally viable. Many successfully turn to common over-the-counter remedies like Pepto Bismol, Gas-X and Mylanta (which possess anti-diarrheic agents, as well).
The average person expels flatus about 14 times daily, equaling nearly three pints.
Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates preached that flatulence was based on good health; later, Roman law permitted passing gas in public, a decision that was later overturned without explanation.
Flatulence held center stage in the Moulin Rouge in the 19th century when Frenchman Joseph Pugol’s musical buttocks entertained thousands.