Is Explosive Flatulence a Sign of Disease?

Five Farting Myths Busted

Blown Away. Terry J Alcorn/ GettyImages

Although it's not a topic of polite society, flatulence (the fancy word for fart) is a natural part of digestion and is completely normal. Gas is a natural byproduct of the digestive process. You also swallow air throughout the day when you laugh, drink from a straw, or even chew gum. Deny it if you must, but the average, healthy adult can break wind up to 21 times a day (that's almost one per hour).

If you find that you are frequently having pain, bloating or abdominal cramps along with excessive flatulence, you might want to schedule a visit with your doctor. For the most part, passing more or less gas in any given day can easily be related to what you ate, drank, or your activity level. However, to put your mind at ease about flatulence, here are five common myths debunked.

Myth #1: Stinky Farts Signal Disease

Actually, if your flatulence is foul, there is a good chance it's related to something you ate, not a digestive disease. Foods such as meat, eggs, cabbage, onions, garlic, and fatty foods can increase your gas production and odor. Similarly, eating and drinking dairy products could give you foul-smelling flatulence if you have been diagnosed as lactose intolerant. If the odor of your gas worries you, consider keeping a food journal. Everyone's body digests food differently. A food journal might help you pair the offensive odor with a food your body has trouble digesting.

Myth #2: Women Don't Pass as Much Gas as Men

Just like men, women have a digestive tract that produces gas. Despite the myth, women pass as much gas as men. Like many old wives' tales, this myth probably stems from a fact. Many diseases, including colon cancer, are more predominantly found in men. Both men and women should report to their doctor if their daily flatulence is paired with any worrisome symptoms linked with colon cancer including fatigue, unexplained weight loss, blood in the stool, or abdominal pain.

Myth #3: Explosive Flatulence is a Symptom of Colon Disease

This is a classic case of mixing up flatulence with diarrhea. Explosive diarrhea can be a symptom of irritable bowel diseases including Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. However, the velocity of your dry farts doesn't mean much. If anything, the speed at which your toot erupts is more likely to be an indication of how much gas has built up in your rectum prior to expulsion. If you are persistently feeling pressure build up in the rectum (as if you need to have a bowel movement or pass gas) talk to your doctor. Ongoing pressure and fullness in the rectum is a sign of rectal cancer.

Myth #4: A Painful Fart is a Sign of Cancer

Actually, it's more likely that pain with farting is caused by anal irritation. The vibration of the sound can irritate already swollen anal tissues from fissures (small tears), hemorrhoids or even prolonged diarrhea, such as when you have a gastrointestinal bug.

Myth #5: It's Not Healthy to Pass a Lot of Gas

First, it depends upon your definition of "a lot." The average person passes gas at least 13 times per day, although you may not be aware of it.

Flatulence does not always carry a sound or a scent -- sometimes gas will leak undetected through your rectal sphincter, as it does when you are asleep. Possibly, you might think you pass "a lot" of gas because your toots happen to be noisier than your spouse or partner's. The loud sound associated with the fart jokes is actually a byproduct of two things: tightening of your sphincter to contain the gas and the vibration within the skin folds surrounding your anus. Therefore, the sound is all about acoustics, not an underlying disease process.

On the contrary, it might not be healthy to retain all of your flatulence. Holding in the gas might lead to bloating, pain and distention of your colon. Even if you do choose to hold the toot in, don't worry about it for long. When you relax your body and go to sleep it will release. 

Sources:

MedlinePlus. (n.d.). Gas-Flatulence. Accessed online February 26, 2014.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (n.d.). What I Need to Know About Gas. Accessed online February 27, 2014.

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