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Gastro-intestinal system
The term 'wind' is used to describe a range of different conditions associated with gases in the stomach and intestines.

The process of expelling wind in the stomach through the mouth is referred to as eructation, but is better known as burping or belching.

The process of expelling wind in the intestines through the anus is referred to as flatulation, but is better known as breaking wind, passing wind or farting.

Although both burping and breaking wind are considered by many to be socially unacceptable and a cause of embarrassment, both processes are perfectly natural and everybody does them. Provided there are no other symptoms, they should not be a cause for concern.
The wind that is released through burping mainly comes from air that has been swallowed when eating (aerophagia) and so is mainly comprised nitrogen and oxygen. Eating too fast, talking while eating can both increase the amount of air swallowed and so increase burping. Fizzy drinks such as cola and other carbonated drinks continue to fizz while in the stomach after swallowing, releasing carbon dioxide that causes the stomach to swell. The build up of pressure caused by the release of the gas stimulates the process of burping to release the pressure. Carbon dioxide may also be released by the action of stomach acid and digestive juices on various foods.

The wind that is released when passing wind mainly comes from the normal bacterial fermentation of food residues present in the large intestine or colon, but also from some of the air that has been swallowed and which has passed from the stomach to the intestines. The gas is mainly comprised carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane and a number of other various gases from bacterial fermentation, plus nitrogen and oxygen from swallowed air. The colon contains many different kinds of bacteria, which ferment food residues producing large volumes of gases in the process. Most of these gases are absorbed into the blood stream and are eventually excreted in the breath but the rest is passed as wind or flatus.

Foods that are high in a certain type of sugar called oligosaccharides and other dietary fibres are particularly likely to produce wind. These foods include baked beans, brussel sprouts, onions, garlic and spicy foods. The oligosaccharides and dietary fibre that these foods contain pass mostly undigested to the large intestine or colon where they are broken down by the bacteria present in the gut, releasing large amounts of gas. Some of these gases have a very strong unpleasant smell and it is largely these gases that are responsible for the unpleasant smell of passed wind. For example, beer, white wine, fruit juices, eggs and meat are rich in sulphur and, when fermented, can give rise to hydrogen sulphide gas, which has a particular 'rotten egg' smell.

Wind can also be caused by other means. Some people lack an enzyme necessary to digest lactose, the sugar in cow's milk. As the lactose is not broken down and absorbed into the blood stream, it stays in the colon where it is fermented by bacteria, releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide and hydrogen. The condition is called lactose intolerance and, besides gas production, may cause abdominal cramp.

Certain medical conditions such as Crohn's disease and coeliac disease can also cause excess flatus because of impaired digestion.
People complain of excessive wind or flatulence when they think that they pass wind more often than their friends do or more often than usual. A person passes wind on average 15 times per day (ranging between three and 40 times), depending on their diet. If wind is not expelled either by belching or passing wind, then the 'trapped wind' gives a feeling of discomfort in the stomach or intestines that is referred to as bloating.

In young babies who are being breast fed or bottled fed, the trapped wind can cause cramps and pain, a condition known as infant colic. If a baby has colic he or she may cry loudly for hours at a time. The baby will appear tense and will seem to have pains in the stomach. Often babies will draw their knees up to their chest and clench their fists in an attempt to relieve the discomfort.
There are number of simple remedies that may help reduce wind. Indigestion remedies will help reduce the amount of gas produced by stomach acid, while those products containing dimeticone will help dislodge trapped wind. Activated charcoal tablets help reduce the amount and odour of flatus.
When to see your pharmacist
Do not be embarrassed to talk to your pharmacist about your symptoms if you are concerned about wind. The pharmacist will need to discuss your symptoms, when they occur, whether you are taking any other medicines or have any other illnesses. If your pharmacist is satisfied that the symptoms described are simply due to excess wind then it is likely that one of the indigestion or activated charcoal remedies will be recommended.
When to see your doctor
If you are otherwise healthy, wind symptoms are not usually associated with disease but if symptoms are severe or troublesome you should see your doctor. If you have a persistent feeling of fullness, bloating or flatulence or if you develop new digestive symptoms, which you have not previously experienced, you should also seek medical advice.
Living with wind
Burping and passing wind are both natural processes and should not be a cause for concern. However, they can be socially embarrassing and, in an attempt to avoid embarrassment, wind may become trapped and cause discomfort.

Some simple life-style changes can help reduce burping and passing wind. Eating slowly, chewing food thoroughly, stopping smoking and not chewing gum will all reduce the amount of air that is swallowed and will help reduce burping and passing wind.

Avoid or cut down on foods and drinks that you know to cause you wind, particularly those foods and drinks that create an unpleasant smell to your wind and which make it difficult to pass unnoticed, for example, beer, white wine, fruit juices, eggs, garlic, onions, fennel and fatty foods.

Eat at regular meal intervals and eat a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Although some fruit and vegetables will increase wind, there are plenty that do not, so try different ones to find those that suit you best.

Reduce meal portions so the stomach is less distended. Try to take regular exercise.
Useful Tips
  • Try to identify which foods and drinks cause wind, and avoid them if possible
  • Reduce the amount of gas-producing foods in the diet such as beans, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, turnips, onions, garlic, leeks and some seeds such as fennel, sunflower and poppy
Further information
Further information may be obtained from Core, the only charity in the UK that funds research into the entire range of gut, liver, intestinal and bowel illnesses. Core was established in 1971 with the help and support of the British Society of Gastroenterologists.

Tel: 020 7486 0341