Flatulence impact

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]


Health Impact

As a normal body function, the action of flatulence is an important signal of normal bowel activity and hence is often documented by nursing staff following surgical or other treatment of patients. However, symptoms of excessive flatulence can indicate the presence of irritable bowel syndrome or some other organic disease. In particular, the sudden occurrence of excessive flatulence together with the onset of new symptoms provide reason for seeking further medical examination. Flatulence is not poisonous; it is a natural component of various intestinal contents. However, discomfort may develop from the build-up of gas pressure. In theory, pathological distension of the bowel, leading to constipation, could result if a person holds in flatus. Not all flatus is released from the body via the anus. When the partial pressure of any gas component of the intestinal lumen is higher than its partial pressure in the blood, that component enters into the bloodstream of the intestinal wall by the process of diffusion. As the blood passes through thelungs this gas can diffuse back out of the blood and be exhaled. If a person holds in flatus during daytime, it will often be released during sleep when the body is relaxed. Some flatus can become trapped within the feces during its compaction and will exit the body, still contained within the fecal matter, during the process ofdefecation.

Environmental Impact

Flatulence is often blamed as a significant source of greenhouse gases owing to the erroneous belief that the methane released by livestock is in the flatus.[1] While livestock account for around 20% of global methane emissions,[2] 90 to 95% of that is released byexhaling orburping.[3] This means only 1–2% of global methane emissions come from livestock flatus.

Social Impact

In many cultures, human flatulence in public is regarded as embarrassing and repulsive, even to the point of being a taboo subject. People will often strain to hold in the passing of gas when in polite company, or position themselves to conceal the noise and smell. In other cultures it may be no more embarrassing than coughing. Flatulence is a potential source of humor, either due to the foul smell or the sounds produced. Some find humour in flatulence ignition, which is possible due to the presence of flammable gases such as hydrogen and methane, though the process can result in burn injuries to the rectum, anus and surrounding buttocks. While the act of farting is generally considered to be an unfortunate occurrence in public settings, a flatus may, in casual circumstances, be used as either a humorous supplement to a joke, or as a comic activity in and of itself. The History of Farting, by Benjamin Bart, is a collection of assorted limericks, facts, and blurbs on farting, while Who Cut the Cheese: A Cultural History of the Fart, by Jim Dawson, gives a more complete cultural discussion of the historical and social significance of farting.


  1. ABC Southern Queensland: "Could skippy stop cows farting and end global warming?" Friday, 3 February 2006. Example of error. Although the article doesn't specify whether the methane is released by flatulence or eructation, it appears the headline-writer assumes it's through flatulence.
  2. Nowak, Rachel (September 24, 2004). "Burp vaccine cuts greenhouse gas". New Scientist. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  3. "Bovine belching called udderly serious gas problem - Global warming concerns spur effort to cut methane." By Gary Polakovic. Los Angles Times, Sunday, July 13, 2003.

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