Flatulence is defined in the medical literature as “flatus expelled through the anus” or the “quality or state of being flatulent”,which is defined in turn as “marked by or affected with gases generated in the intestine or stomach; likely to cause digestive flatulence”.The root of these words is from the Latin flatus – “a blowing, a breaking wind”. Flatus is also the medical word for gas generated in the stomach or bowels. These standard definitions do not reflect the fact that a proportion of intestinal gas may be composed of swallowed environmental air, and hence flatus is not totally generated in the stomach or bowels. The scientific study of this area of medicine is termed flatology.

It is normal for humans to pass flatus through the rectum, although the volume and frequency may vary greatly between individuals. It is also normal for intestinal gas passed through the rectum to have a characteristic feculent smell, although this too may vary in concentration. Flatus is brought to the rectum by specialised contractions of the muscles in the intestines and colon. The noises commonly associated with flatulence (“Blowing a raspberry”) are caused by the vibration of anal sphincters, and occasionally by the closed buttocks. Both the noise and smell associated with flatus leaving the anus can be sources of embarrassment or comedy in many cultures.

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