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When Should I Worry About Passing Too Much Gas?

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Updated October 26, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: When Should I Worry About Passing Too Much Gas?

It's embarrassing to admit, but I pass gas up to 20 times per day, sometimes. Is this normal or is it a sign of something?

Thanks to urban slang, there are over dozens of ways to say "pass gas" including flatulence, fart, toot, break wind, and the all-time most colorful phrase, "cut the cheese". Regardless of what name you give your emissions, most healthy people release gas throughout the day – the average is between 14 and 23 times per day. Excessive flatulence has two harmless causes: Eating foods that make you pass gas and swallowing air. However, excessive gas and bloating can be one of the signs of colon cancer.

Answer:

How Much is Too Much?

Your doctor might encourage you to count the number of times you pass gas daily, as well as start a food and drink journal to try and find the root cause of the excess gas. Anything over 23 toots per day is considered more than is normal, but still may not warrant concern or panic.

Does the Smell Mean Anything?

Actually, the smell of your gas depends on the food that you eat and is a result of the gases made in your small intestine and colon during digestion. A foul smell doesn't mean anything, per say, except for a possibility of more embarrassment when passing gas happens at an inopportune time. The general consensus is that animal proteins, such as eggs or meat, cause more foul-smelling gas, whereas soluble fiber (like that found in fruits and vegetables) can cause gas, but it won't smell as bad.

Gas Making Conditions

Although excessive flatulence is one of the symptoms of colon cancer, that is usually not the culprit in otherwise healthy adults. The majority of adults may simply be more cognizant of passing gas, eat foods that cause it, or they may subconsciously be doing things that add to their gas, such as chewing gum or using straws to drink. Some other causes for excess gas include:

Foods that Cause Flatulence

Most people know what foods will upset their stomach and cause them to bloat or pass gas. For instance, the cruciferous vegetables, like cauliflower and broccoli, are common gas-causing culprits for many people. Excessive carbohydrate intake – including pasta and bread -- can also cause extra gas. Some other flatulence-forming foods include:

  • Lentils and beans
  • Cabbage
  • Dairy (especially if you are lactose intolerant)
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Alcohol (especially beer)
  • Onions
  • Whole grains

What Can I Do About It?

Most importantly, if your gas, bloating and flatulence are uncomfortable or concern you, you need to discuss these symptoms with your doctor. He or she can help discern if the cause is something serious, such as cancer, especially if it is paired with other symptoms of the disease, like weight loss, rectal bleeding or a change in bowel habits.

If your doctor gives you the green light that you're disease-free and sends you home with a new prescription for anti-gas medications, such as simethicone, there are some things you can do to help with the flatulence including:

  • Slowly introduce more insoluble fiber into your diet (think bran and edible vegetable peels)
  • Limit your consumption of carbohydrates, such as pasta or corn
  • Drink plenty of fresh water daily
  • Do not use straws when you drink
  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Exercise daily, if it’s safe for you to do so
  • Stop chewing gum
  • Slow down and enjoy each meal – don't gulp it down

Although some of these things primarily cause burping, or releasing gas through your mouth, if the air makes it past your stomach it will be released sooner or later as a toot.

Sources:

American Cancer Society. (2006). American Cancer Society's Complete Guide to Colorectal Cancer. Clifton Fields, NE: American Cancer Society.

National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse. (n.d.). Gas in the Digestive Tract. Accessed October 21, 2012.

Walker, A. & Vaughn, J.A. (November 2009). Help! I Can't Stop Farting! Ohio State University Student Health Services. Accessed October 22, 2012.

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