Can Flatulence Be a Sign of Disease?

5 myths about gas that deserve debunking

Flatulence is a completely normal part of digestion. Gas is the natural byproduct of the process wherein bacteria in the intestines break down sugars and polysaccharides as they enter the colon. You can also collect gas during the day as you swallow air when laughing, drinking from a straw, or chewing gum.

While you should see a healthcare provider if excessive flatulence is accompanied by pain, bloating, cramping, and bloody stool, passing gas—even explosively so—is not considered a problem. More often than not, it is simply related to something you ate, drank, or did during the day.

On average, a healthy adult can "break wind" as often as 21 times per day.

Here are five flatulence myths that deserve debunking.

Is Stinky Gas a Sign of Illness?

If your flatulence is foul-smelling, there is a good chance that it's related to something you ate. Foods such as meat, eggs, cabbage, onions, and garlic can increase both the amount and smelliness of your gas. The same applies to any foods that are excessively fatty.

Woman suffering from abdominal pain. France
BSIP/UIG / Getty Images

Similarly, eating or drinking dairy products (such as milk, cheese, or yogurt) can create sulfurous odors if you are lactose intolerant. Constipation can also trigger off-putting smells by increasing the fermentation process of foods in the digestive tract.

Do Women Pass Less Gas?

Just like men, women have digestive tracts that produce gas. Despite what a female friend may tell you, women pass just as much gas as men.

However, like many old wives' tales, myths like these often stem from a kernel of truth. The fact is that many diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, including colon cancer, are more predominant in men and are usually accompanied by excessive flatulence and bloating.

If these types of symptoms persist and are accompanied by pain, fatigue, weight loss, and bloody stool, see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

Is Explosive Flatulence a Bad Sign?

In most cases, explosive flatulence is not a sign of colorectal disease. It is simply related to the amount of gas that has built up in the rectum. The reason for this may be based on everything from physiology (how much gas a person can hold) to the strength of the anal sphincter muscles.

On the other hand, if you feel persistent pressure and a noticeable fullness in the rectum even when vacant, speak with your healthcare provider. This may be a sign of rectal cancer.

While explosive flatulence is really not a problem, explosive diarrhea is. Explosive diarrhea may be a symptom of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which includes Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.

Is Painful Flatulence a Bad Sign?

Painful flatulence can understandably be concerning if accompanied by other symptoms of colorectal cancer. However, in most cases, the pain will be linked to a localized irritation.

Oftentimes, something as innocuous as gas can cause pain if there is an anal fissure, hemorrhoids, or even irritation caused by prolonged diarrhea.

Is Excessive Gas Is Unhealthy?

Oftentimes, gas will leak through the anal sphincter without any sound or even feeling, especially during sleep. So, if you think you're making a lot of gas, it's probably because you're simply hearing or feeling it more.

On the other hand, it may not be healthy to retain your gas. Holding it back can lead to bloating, rectal pain, and, in extreme cases, distention of the colon.

If you're worried about the sound or smell of your gas, don't hold it. Simply excuse yourself and go to the bathroom.

A Word From Verywell

Passing a lot of gas may be embarrassing, but there's no reason to think it will cause you any harm. Moreover, just because a person makes a lot of noise doesn't mean that they are producing more gas than anyone else. If uncertain about any symptoms that accompany it, don't be shy. See your healthcare provider and have it checked out.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Why does my gas smell so bad?

    In many cases, gas that smells especially bad is simply due to something you've eaten. Meat, eggs, cabbage, onions, garlic, or excessively fatty foods all contribute to foul-smelling gas. Alternatively, if you are lactose-intolerant and have any dairy products like milk, cheese, or yogurt, it's possible to create sulfurous odors.

  • Is there any treatment for excessive flatulence?

    In most cases, there's no need to treat excessive flatulence. However, if you experience pain, bloating, cramping, or bloody stool in addition to excessive flatulence, then it may be worth contacting your healthcare provider. Even if it might feel a bit embarrassing, there's nothing wrong with reaching out about any concern.

  • Can constipation cause bad gas?

    Constipation can play a part in causing bad gas. During constipation, food is being fermented in the digestive tract for an extended period of time. As a result, when the digested food is finally expelled, any accompanying gas can be especially foul.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Julie Wilkinson, BSN, RN
Julie Wilkinson is a registered nurse and book author who has worked in both palliative care and critical care.