Flatulence is a normal process whereby gas within the bowels (small and/or large intestines) are released into the environment. It may be a source of amusement and embarrassment but flatulence is a normal and natural process. However, there are times when flatulence can become a problem. People who experience constant flatulence that occurs non-stop throughout the day may find it to be uncomfortable.
Often the noise of flatulence causes significant distress to a person suffering with constant flatulence. This noise occurs for several reasons and it alerts others to the fact that a person has passed gas. In the public space, this is usually embarrassing and can cause significant psychological stress. Odor is another factor but may not always be as implicating as the sound of flatulence which can be attributed to a specific person.
In order to understand why flatulence may be constant, it is important to first understand some of the physiology behind flatulence which is a normal and natural process.
Where does flatulence come from?
Flatulence is the act of passing out gas from the lower digestive tract. When gas builds up in the upper digestive tract then it is usually passed out as a belch (burp). The gas that is passed out during flatulence is known as flatus, or commonly as a fart. The composition of flatus varies from the composition of a belch. While there may be some common gases in both flatus and a belch, the source of these gas are different.
Air that is swallowed accounts for a large part of the gas that is released as a belch. Some of this air may also reach the lower digestive tract and be passed out as flatus. However, a large portion of flatus is due to the gas released by the bacteria in the colon. Methane and carbon dioxide from the bacteria as well as hydrogen from fermentation also make up flatus. Some gases from the blood, like carbon dioxide, can also enter the bowel lumen to comprise flatus.
Read more on uncontrollable flatulence.
Sounds of Flatulence
The sound of flatulence has not been a subject of intense interest for medical science. It is produced by the force of the gas erupting through the anus. The volume or gas and movement of soft tissue which the gas passes across are also factors in flatulence sounds. However, according to some sources¹ there sounds of flatulence can be classified according to four types.
- “Slider” type which is released slowly and usually silently.
- “Drumbeat” which is prolonged and rolling like a drumbeat.
- “Bark” type is a sharp sudden burst.
“Open sphincter” type is another type of flatus that has been described but does not specify the sound. It is described as a hot or warm sensation with an aromatic odor.
Causes of Persistent Flatulence
The causes of persistent flatulence (“non-stop farting” as it may be commonly described) is usually due to excessive intestinal gas. Once this gas accumulates in the lower colon it is passed out with forceful contractions of the colon and rectum wall pushing it out through the anus. Apart from the diseases and disorders discussed below, excessive intestinal gas may also be due to dietary factors like with gassy foods and drinks.
Read more on excessive flatulence.
Constant flatulence may be a temporary problem that is often associated with gastrointestinal infections. It is more likely to occur in conditions where the colon becomes infected. This affects the normal intestinal flora (“good bowel bacteria and fungi”). There may at times be an overgrowth of some organisms and colonization of the bowels by other infectious agents which may produce copious amounts of gas.
In addition there may be disturbances in digestion due to faster than normal movement through the bowels and inflammation of the bowel walls which prevents nutrients from being absorbed. As a result more nutrients remain undigested and in the bowels where these bacteria may consume it and therefore produce excess gas. Usually there are other symptoms like nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Most of these infections are acute.
If digestion is affected then food cannot be broken down into smaller nutrients which are absorbed. There are various types of digestion problems. Most affect the substances that are responsible for chemically breaking down food. These are mainly the digestive enzymes secreted in the mouth, stomach and small intestine but also gastric acid (from the stomach) and bile (from the gallbladder).
Food intolerances are one type of common digestive. This is where the body does not produce certain digestive enzymes in sufficient quantities to digest specific foods. One such example is lactose intolerance which is common throughout the world. Since the nutrients are undigested, it cannot be absorbed and remains in the gut. The bacteria in the colon then have extra nutrition and will therefore consume it and produce more gas.
Once digested, nutrients are absorbed through the bowel walls into the bloodstream. However, if there is any disease or disorder of the bowels then these nutrients may not be able to be absorbed. This may occur with a host of conditions particularly where there is inflammation and/or damage to the bowel wall. These conditions that result in malabsorption may be acute or chronic.
Acute absorption problems often arise with bowel infections. Celiac disease is a condition where the bowel becomes inflamed as a result of an immune reaction to the presence of gluten. Inflammatory bowel disease is another such condition where inflammation of the bowel can hamper absorption of nutrients. As with the other causes, these unabsorbed nutrients provide a larger food source for colonic bacteria which results in increased gas production.
The activity of the muscles in the digestive tract wall push food, fluid and wastes through the gut. This movement has to not be too fast or proper digestion and absorption will not occur. Similarly it cannot be too slow, especially in the colon, since the fermentation process may be prolonged. As a result in both instances, there can be excess gas produced in the colon which in turn may contribute to constant or persistent flatulence.
There are several conditions where bowel motility becomes disrupted. Bowel infections are common and often the movement through the bowels is faster than normal. It may also be commonly seen in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), both in IBS with diarrhea and IBS with constipation. The exact cause of IBS is unknown but it is not related to any identifiable bowel disease. Therefore it is referred to as a functional bowel disorder.