Causes of Gas in the Elderly

Excessive flatulence can be an awkward and embarrassing problem for sufferers and their families. Most of the time, it’s something you dismiss with a laugh, a joke, and maybe a bottle of air freshener, but if it persists, it can be difficult to live with and could indicate a more serious problem.

Causes of Excessive Flatulence in the Elderly

On average, seniors pass more gas than younger adults. For the most part, this is a natural process and there are no serious underlying causes. However, if excessive flatulence is accompanied by other symptoms, including weight loss, diarrhea, chronic constipation, pain, and severe discomfort, there may be an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

If these symptoms are present, book an appointment with your doctor. If not, it’s likely that excessive flatulence is caused by one of the following issues:

Slow Digestion

The digestive tract slows with age and this can increase the risk of constipation, while also causing excessive flatulence. If the flatulence is combined with constipation and hard, dry stools, consider eating more fiber-rich foods and drinking lots of water.

Dehydration is also common in seniors, as the body becomes less efficient at holding and using water. If combined with a poor diet, this can lead to chronic constipation.

Gassy Foods

While fiber can help with digestion and is essential for maintaining optimal health, excessive consumption can cause flatulence. In addition, if you’re used to a low-fiber diet and you suddenly increase your intake, it may take a while for your body to adapt.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean you will have a severe attack of diarrhea every time a little milk or cheese passes your lips. It simply means that your body is not producing enough of the enzyme needed to digest the sugar found in dairy products, and this can lead to bloating and flatulence as well as other digestive issues.

Fortunately, the rise of lactose-free and vegan products means it’s easier than ever to omit this sugar from your diet without making any major changes. Try going a week without consuming any lactose and see if it has any notable effect on your digestive system.


Pain medications, antibiotics, fiber-supplements, laxatives, and even blood pressure medications can cause excessive flatulence. If present, the symptom will be listed under “Side Effects” on the medication leaflet. 

The symptoms may decrease over time, as your body gets used to the drugs.

Swallowing Air

The air you swallow has to be released somehow, and if you’re swallowing a lot of it, as is the case in people who struggle with dysphagia, it could lead to excessive flatulence.

Fructose Intolerance

As with lactose, fructose is a fruit that can cause sensitivity and lead to digestive disorders. 

In cases of fructose intolerance, flatulence may follow the consumption of whole fruits and fruit juices. These can be stopped for a short period of time to determine if fructose is causing the problem or not.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBS)

IBS is much more common in elderly patients, as roughly a third of sufferers are over the age of 60. IBS can present with a host of symptoms, including pain, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, changes in bowel habits, and bloating. 

IBS can be difficult to manage in elderly patients, as they respond differently to medications, but your doctor can help you find a solution.

Sleep Apnea

Individuals with sleep apnea may experience excessive flatulence as they swallow a lot of air during the night. As noted above, all of that air has to go somewhere, and they may wake bloated and with abdominal pain due to the build-up of gas.

How to Get Rid of Gas in the Elderly

The solution depends on the cause, but there are some general ways that you can limit the build-up of gas and get it out of your system, including:

  • Manage Your Diet: After checking to determine if your gas is being caused by the consumption of lactose or fructose, you should manage your intake of fiber. It’s important to get your fill of this nutrient without overdoing it. As you change your diet, avoid relying too much on cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, sprouts, and cabbage, as these trigger more gas than other vegetables.
  • Exercise: Staying active helps to move waste through your intestines and will allow you to pass small and discreet amounts of gas. In addition, it will help with constipation and provide numerous other health benefits.
  • Digestive Enzymes: You can buy digestive enzymes over the counter, and these may help to relieve your digestive issues. Speak with your pharmacist or doctor if you’re not sure which ones are best for you, and make sure you check to make sure there are no contraindications.
  • Stay Hydrated: Drink plenty of fluid throughout the day, as hydration will ensure everything moves smoothly through your digestive tract and it will help to prevent constipation.

Passing Gas: What’s Normal?

What’s normal to you might be abnormal to someone else. Maybe you feel like nothing has changed, but your partner believes you’re passing an excessive amount of gas.

Generally, people will pass gas between 15 and 25 times a day. That’s a healthy amount, but to some, it’s excessive. Depending on their diet and their habits, they may only do it 2 or 3 times a day, so the “normal” range seems rather large.

Many individuals hold it in out of embarrassment or shame, before eventually passing it when they use the toilet or even when they sleep.