Is It Dangerous to Hold in a Fart Too Long?

Is It Dangerous to Hold in a Fart Too Long?
Photo: Prostock-studio, Shutterstock

We’ve all been there. You’re on a first date, or in a meeting, or trying to be a considerate aeroplane passenger — whatever the reason, you’re holding in a fart. Sure, it’s uncomfortable — but could it be dangerous to your health? Could not passing gas cause you to pass away? Could you die by “silent but deadly?” (OK, I’m done.)

Most people fart five to 23 times per day, but any number of social pressures could force you to hold back one of those nasty guys. Here’s what you need to know about the potential consequences of letting your gas build up instead of letting it rip.

Why we fart in the first place

We all swallow excess air from activities like eating and talking. Gas is also released while your large intestine breaks down food–especially foods like broccoli, beans, and dairy. When excess gas builds up in your digestive system, your body needs a way to release it. And so, unless you’re wilfully restraining yourself so as not to scare off a first date, that gas is often released as a fart.

Is holding in a fart dangerous?

Holding in your flatulence is known to cause feelings of indigestion, bloating, and pain. Plus, as Healthline points out, the added social stress of holding in a fart can often make your physical discomfort even greater.

Luckily, little scientific evidence suggests that holding in your farts will lead to serious health issues aside from temporary discomfort. Except for extremely rare cases, that gas is going to find a way out somehow.

You could breath farts out of your mouth

Well, sort of. Here’s what could happen: When you prevent a fart from its intended exit, “some of the gas can pass through your gut wall and be reabsorbed into your bloodstream,” according to Healthline. Then, that gas can end up being exhaled through your lungs. Since you’ll be breathing fermented gas, it could be seen as a mouth fart. (Don’t worry–it won’t taste like one).

The real danger is an obstructed colon

The only reason to be seriously worried about holding in a fart is if you have a severe obstruction in your colon. With that sort of blockage, the fart build-up essentially causes your colon to blow up like a balloon–as this video from Brainiac illustrates via cartoon. Thankfully, you shouldn’t worry about turning into a balloon on your next first date. This scenario only happens with critically ill patients, and it’s rare even then, says Dr. Lisa Ganjhu in Women’s Health.

Can you die from holding in a fart?

At the end of the day, the limited research suggests that holding in a fart will not be your cause of death (unless you’re that rare case of a critically ill patient with a severely obstructed colon). Technically, you could die while you happen to be holding in a fart–but that would be correlation, not causation. And a terrible way to go.

How to stop farting so much

Your diet and digestive health is the top culprit behind your gassy habits. Consider looking out for these common gas-causing foods to see if they could be causing excess farting:

  • Beans and lentils
  • Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and other cruciferous vegetables
  • Fruits, oat bran, and other foods high in soluble fibre
  • Lactose, dairy products
  • Sorbitol, the artificial sweetener (found in gum)

In addition to your diet, another way to curb your farts is to eat and drink slower so you swallow less air. Try out the tips in this article to reduce bloating, too. You may also want to look into treating any underlying medical conditions like IBS and heartburn that may cause gassiness. Until then, I say you let it rip.

Log in to comment on this story!