IT might not be something you think much about, especially as the average person does it up to 20 times a day, but passing wind could reveal a multitude of things about your health.
So much of our health depends on our diet and lifestyle habits, and the results of these habits find their way into our guts.
Everything from stress levels, the frequency of exercise, diet and even sleep affects how gas and air build up in our gastrointestinal tract . . . and this is what impacts on our passing of wind.
With the help of GP Dr Sarah Garsed, Jenny Francis-Townson reveals the health facts behind farts.
WHAT IF . . . MOST OF THE TIME YOU HARDLY FART BUT OTHER TIMES YOU PASS WIND A LOT AND IT SMELLS?
WHILE it’s common to pass wind more on some days than others due to what you’ve eaten and what you’ve been doing – noticing that there are certain times that your farts are a lot more frequent (and smellier) could be to do with your sex.
Women go through cycles every month and the fluctuation in hormones results in a rise in oestrogen and the production of chemicals called prostaglandins.
Dr Sarah says: “Some women produce too much of this chemical and it can cause your bowels to contract more than normal, making you pass wind more often.
“Couple this with the fact you go through bacterial changes in the gut during this time of the month and you will also find those farts have a stronger smell. This is fine and nothing to worry about.”
WHAT IF . . . YOU ARE FARTING (AND POOING) LESS THAN NORMAL?
SOME of us might think that farting less often is a good thing, but it can be a sign that you are suffering from high levels of stress.
When we feel very stressed, especially for prolonged periods, our tummy muscles and digestive tract become tense, and high levels of stress hormone cortisol are released, playing havoc with gut bacteria and digestion.
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Many of us also change our diets when we are under pressure, often consuming more unhealthy, processed foods.
Dr Sarah says: “People don’t realise the physical impact that stress has on our bodies. Our bowels react to this and we can find ourselves constipated (or sometimes the opposite), because our guts are tense and not working as they should.
“Our breathing also changes so we often take in more air than we need to. Taking time to deep breathe, taking exercise and trying to get more sleep can help settle our guts.”
WHAT IF . . . YOUR FARTS ARE FOUL-SMELLING AND YOU HAVE LOST YOUR APPETITE?
The condition can cause small-intestinal bacterial overgrowth, simply meaning too many bacteria build up in a part of the digestive system.
When these bacteria break down food residue, they can produce a smelly gas.
Dr Sarah says: “There are lots of symptoms to look out for if you suspect Crohn’s disease, but smelly farts accompanied by sudden appetite and weight loss could be a reason to be checked out by your GP.
“You might also find you have blood in your poo, painful cramps and excess wind. See your GP immediately if you have these symptoms.”
WHAT IF . . . YOUR FARTS ARE EXTREMELY SMELLY?
MOST farts smell unpleasant to an extent, but if yours are consistently incredibly smelly and fill a room with odour, it could be a warning sign, as it can be linked to inflammatory bowel disease or irritable bowel syndrome.
Excessive smelly gas can also be due to bowel cancer – although this would also have other symptoms, including blood in your poo, a change to bowel habits, unexplained weight loss, extreme tiredness for no reason and a pain or lump in your tummy.
But before seeing your GP, know that the commonest cause of smelly farts is your diet.
Sulphur-rich foods such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts produce a very strong eggy smell in your digestive system, while lots of cauliflower, garlic, onions, beans and even wine can create an excessive “bin” smell.
Dr Sarah says: “Usually foul-smelling farts mean you are consuming a good diet of veg and fibre, so it may not be a bad thing.”
WHAT IF . . . YOU’RE FARTING A LOT IN BED?
MOST people do not “sleep-fart” very often, simply because the body relaxes at night and farting takes place when we are fully conscious. But frequently farting at night could be a sign of poor health.
Dr Sarah says: “Passing wind in bed could simply be a sign that you are eating too late in the evening, close to bedtime, and therefore are farting more in the night.
“However, it can also be a sign of digestive disorders or food intolerances. Farting in your sleep is not dangerous to your health, but doing it a lot usually means an excess build up of gas and this needs checking out.
“Lactose intolerance is a common cause, which means your body cannot absorb the sugar in dairy products properly. It causes excess, smelly farts and can result in farting more at night.
“Speak to your GP if you are concerned.”
WHAT IF . . . YOUR FARTS ARE PAINFUL?
TRAPPED wind can be a hugely painful condition, and experiencing this suddenly and for a prolonged period could be a sign of digestive issues and irritable bowel syndrome.
Chronic digestive issues that affect the large intestines can often cause the muscle contractions that keep food moving from your stomach through your digestive tract to be stronger, or last longer.
This process can then cause excessive gas build-up, bloating and painful passing of wind. Dr Sarah says: “As a result the nerves in your gut can become ultra-sensitive to the movement of gas, causing you to feel more pain.
“If you are concerned, visit your GP and consider changing your diet to eat more fibre and vegetables and try to increase your daily exercise.”
WHAT IF . . . YOU ARE UNABLE TO FART?
IT is common to go a while without passing wind, but prolonged periods of being completely unable to fart is an extreme cause for concern.
Dr Sarah says: “If you experience bloating and are completely unable to pass wind, seek urgent medical advice as you could have a bowel blockage.
“You will also be experiencing a painful and tender tummy, so if this is coupled with a prolonged period of passing no wind, you should visit your GP or A&E.”