Gas Moves in Funny Ways

Gum for Gas?

Medical Author: Jay W. Marks, MD
Medical Editor: Dennis Lee, MD

We all produce gas in our intestines, especially our colons, or, at least, our intestinal bacteria produce it, from undigested food. We are fortunate because the overwhelming majority of the gas that is formed by the bacteria is used up by other bacteria in the intestine.

Some people are more fortunate than others. All of the gas produced in their intestines is used up by bacteria, and they pass gas (fart) very little, that is, unless they eat foods that bacteria can use to form lots of gas-like beans-that overwhelm even the most ardent, gas-devouring bacteria. A small amount of intestinal gas is absorbed into the blood from the intestine and is eliminated in the breath. The gas that is not used up by bacteria or eliminated in the breath must be passed. Passing gas relies on the functioning of the intestinal muscles. The gas distends the intestine, and the intestinal muscles respond by contracting and pushing the gas further along the intestine until the gas is finally expelled. Sometimes this process fails.

I underwent removal of a portion of my sigmoid colon for diverticulitis. The surgery was done laparoscopically and went very well. There were no complications, and my discomfort was easily controlled with medication. Manipulation of the intestines during surgery "stuns" the intestinal muscles, and they usually stop working for a time. Before patients can eat after surgery, their intestinal muscles must start working. The signs that the muscles are working is the presence of abdominal gurgling (borborygmi) and the passing of gas. Laparoscopic surgery stuns the intestine less than "open" (large incisional) surgery, and the intestinal muscles usually recover quickly.