GP explains why your farts smell or hurt – and five other common gas complaints
It might be embarrassing but everybody does it. Passing gas is as much a part of human existence as breathing and paying taxes, but it can also reveal a great deal about what is going on inside our bodies.
The frequency with which we break wind, and the smell of it, can be altered by things like stress, menstruation or even underlying Crohn's disease – so understanding why these things happen can help us keep on top of our health.
If you have farted in bed a lot recently, noticed a particularly foul odour, or even found the whole experience painful, GP Dr Sarah Garsed recently revealed what these common complaints can indicate, and when you should worry.
1. If you are farting in bed a lot…
Nobody likes a bedtime trumper, but potentially with a good reason. When we are asleep, our bodies should be fully relaxed, and so unlikely to fart.
However, if you are frequently breaking wind while you are alseep, it could be a sign of ill 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.”
2. If it hurts to fart…
A painful growing pressure in your guts before you fart could be a sign you have trapped wind, which can be a sign of wider digestive issues or even irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Trapped wind is caused by strong intestinal muscle contractions that can last for a long time, which is painful for sufferers and also a sign of wider gut problems.
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.”
3. If you are struggling to fart in the first place…
Though it is widely stigmatised, farting regularly is all part of a healthy digestive process, so if you do not fart for a while it could be a cause for concern.
If you go for a prolonged period without breaking wind, and it starts to hurt, you should seek medical advice. 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.”
Five possible health reasons why your farts smell like rotten eggs
4. If you are farting and pooing less than you normally do…
Our digestive tracts do not just respond to food, but also to how we are feeling. As part of our body's fight or flight mechanism, when it undergoes extreme stress, our bodies will react with either constipation or… the opposite.
In everyday life, this can mean that maintaining high levels of stress can cause our stomach muscles and intestines to contract and become tense, while the stress hormone cortisol is released affecting your gut bacteria and the rate at which you digest food.
All is not lost however, there are some simple things you can do to calm a stressed gut. Dr Sarah explains: “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.”
5. If your farts REALLY smell…
There is good news and bad news. If your farts are frequently extremely funky, it can be a sign that you have an inflamed bowel disease, or IBS. If you are also experiencing pain, blood in your poo, or sudden weight loss you should speak to your GP.
However, the good news is that it is most likely just a sign that you have a fairly healthy, if sulphur rich diet. Eating broccoli or Brussels sprouts will produce that typically eggy smell; while beans, garlic, and onions can create some of the more foul odours.
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.”
6. If your farts REALLY smell and you don't want to eat…
If you are passing bad-smelling gas, struggling to eat and losing weight – you could have Crohn's disease.
Caused by an explosion in the growth of bacteria in your small intestine, which create the smelly gas, Crohn's sufferers can experience severe stomach pain, diarrhoea, fatigue and weight loss.
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.”
7. If you rarely fart, but then sometimes fart loads and it smells
It is perfectly normal for the quantity and ferocity of your flatulence to change over time with what you eat – but if it happens at certain times it could be down to your biological sex.
As part of the menstrual cycle, women's hormones fluctuate throughout the month – eventually causing a rise in oestrogen and a chemical 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.”
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