Uncontrollable gas (flatus or flatulent gases) is known as flatal incontinence. This condition is defined as involuntary flatulence at least once or more per week. The big problem: it can happen anywhere. Involuntarily ‘breaking wind’ while at the store, restaurant or at the office creates embarrassing situations. It can erode self-confidence. It can negatively impact one’s relationships. Worse yet, the feeling of being powerless to control oneself can stress and isolate an individual. Unfortunately, it’s a problem that afflicts women around the world.
Pregnancy, Childbirth and Uncontrollable Gas
During pregnancy and natural childbirth, the anal sphincter (the muscle that controls the anus) and the perineum muscles (the muscles of the pelvic area) suffer trauma. As a result, many women experience a loss of control over bowel movements and gas immediately following childbirth. While this is very common, it certainly isn’t desirable.
Studies have found that nearly 1 in 3 women who deliver vaginally report experiencing uncontrollable gas. For some women, the problem occurs for only a short time. For others, the problem becomes chronic. 
Researchers have sought to identify why this affects some women, but not others, particularly after pregnancy and delivery. One study linked the use of instruments, such as forceps or vacuum delivery, to an increased risk of trauma to the perineal muscles, resulting in flatal incontinence. 
The use of instruments during delivery doesn’t alone explain the problem. It has been noted that women who have multiple natural births report a higher incidence of flatal incontinence. While this might suggest a C-section might offer a way to prevent this problem, researchers have found C-sections did not offer protection against flatal incontinence. 
Maybe Childbirth is Not the Cause…
One study of Korean women and post-delivery anal and flatal incontinence did deliver an interesting result. The Korean women in this study experienced the trauma typical to a natural delivery, with lacerations to the sphincter occurring. Vacuum extraction was also used. Yet, the study reported flatal incontinence occurs nearly 20% less in Korean women than in women from Western countries, despite similar risk factors. 
Of course that leads to the question…
What Other Factors Contribute to Flatal Incontinence
Age appears a contributing factor to the problem of controlling gas. As the Korean study shows, the problem exists globally. Researchers from several countries report that about 1 in 3 women ages 30 and older suffer from the involuntary release of gas.  
Another study identified menopause, obesity and an increased occurrence of urinary incontinence as factors that increased the likelihood of flatal incontinence.  This suggests additional factors can impact the ability of the perineal and anal muscles from functioning properly.
Research supports this idea. One study of women ages 18-50 reported stress significantly increased the chance of an involuntary release of flatus.  While childbirth has long been associated as a cause, this continued research demonstrates that the problem of flatal incontinence extends beyond birthing as a simple explanation.
Hope for Women Suffering from Flatal Incontinence
The research has shown factors beyond childbirth can cause flatal incontinence in women. This problem should not be ignored or ‘lived with.’ For those suffering from this unpleasant and potentially embarrassing condition, understand many women suffer from it. Has flatal incontinence affected your life? How have you dealt with it? Please leave a comment and share your experience.
- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM
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