Digestive complaints are a common concern among adults. Gas, bloating, and indigestion: we've all experienced all of them and most of the time their presence is temporary. Flatulence, which is perhaps the most popular of gastrointestinal struggles, may occasionally be the result of a serious health concern but is often simply the result of diet or other benign situation. Although you should always be courteous and mindful of those nearby, here are three occasions when you definitely do not need to worry about being flatulent.
When Is Flatulence Not Serious?
1. When It's a Sign of Recovery
Since flatulence is produced during digestion, by some measures, being flatulent is actually an indication of good health. In some situations, flatulence can even be the sign of recovery.
The anatomical disruption of pregnancy or surgery will often produce a temporary condition known as postoperative ileus, which is a loss of gastrointestinal motion. The presence of flatulence and other bowel noises is an indication the condition has passed. Throughout much of the 1900's, it was a common task for nurses to monitor and listen for the return of bowel noises in patients with postoperative ileus. 
2. When It's Fake
Whoopee cushions, beloved for their comedic effect, are a source of artificial flatulence… but they're not what I'm referring to.
Some people describe a colonoscopy as a pleasurable and enjoyable experience, most do not. One of the reasons for the discomfort, or amusement, is because, during a colonoscopy, it's common to inflate the intestinal tract with air. Yep, just like a balloon. The procedure, which improves visualization, is also known to produce wall-shaking flatulence afterward when the air is released. Both patients and technicians may be relieved to learn that new developments suggest using carbon dioxide instead of "room air" may lessen the amount of flatulence released. 
3. When It's High Altitude Induced
The air inside your body can be affected by altitude and air pressure. Air pressure changes with altitude and it's common to be more flatulent at higher altitudes, especially for people who do not live in a high altitude area. Some estimates have figured that acute mountain sickness affects over 80% of hikers, mountain climbers, and other short-term high altitude visitors. One of the most common symptoms of acute mountain sickness? Flatulence. 
Not All Flatulence is a Joke
Flatulence isn't always a laughing matter and can actually be indicative of more serious health concerns. The University of Washington's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology has warned that flatulence, along with bloating, pelvic pain, and difficulty eating, are the most common indications of ovarian cancer. 
However, don't freak out because you passed gas. Your body will usually let you know if it's experiencing a disturbance, so listen to it and listen to it honestly. If you notice changes in the flatulence your body produces, or other digestive effects that are different from YOUR norm, don't ignore it! Take inventory of your life and determine the cause. Has your diet changed? Has your activity level increased or decreased? Are you taking medications or supplements? Be aware of your own health and when you're in doubt or experiencing discomfort, consult your healthcare provider.
- Massey RL. Return of bowel sounds indicating an end of postoperative ileus: is it time to cease this long-standing nursing tradition? Medsurg Nurs. 2012 May-Jun;21(3):146-50.
- Wu J, Hu B. The role of carbon dioxide insufflation in colonoscopy: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Endoscopy. 2012 Feb;44(2):128-36. doi: 10.1055/s-0031-1291487. Epub 2012 Jan 23. Review.
- Anand AC, Sashindran VK, Mohan L. Gastrointestinal problems at high altitude. Trop Gastroenterol. 2006 Oct-Dec;27(4):147-53. Review.
- Goff B. Symptoms associated with ovarian cancer. Clin Obstet Gynecol. 2012 Mar;55(1):36-42. doi: 10.1097/GRF.0b013e3182480523. Review.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.