Whether you’re at a nice party, a work event, or a wedding, there are quite a few places where it’s not convenient or appropriate for you to pass gas. Unfortunately, sometimes your body just doesn’t care about embarrassing you — and that's when you feel the gas coming. So you hold it in, and sometimes, that delay works. But what happens to gas that doesn’t get passed? Does it simply disappear? Does it come back with a vengeance? Or does it reappear in another form? Here’s the short answer: It depends. But in order to understand what happens when we hold in our gas, we have to first understand why we pass gas in the first place.
Why do we pass gas?
Passing gas, known medically as flatulence, is something that every person on this planet does. Even though we don’t really talk about it (for obvious reasons), we pass gas a lot more often than we let on — and perhaps even more than we realize. According to Medical News Today, some research suggests that the average person passes gas about 12 to 25 times per day. So it’s totally normal, and it just means that our intestines are doing their jobs correctly.
While we're digesting food, our bodies naturally produce intestinal gas as part of the whole process. According to Medline Plus, this gas can come from two different sources: air that we swallow and the breakdown of undigested food by bacteria in the large intestine. So how does this actually lead to gas? According to the Mayo Clinic, gas forms in your large intestine when bacteria ferments carbs that aren't digested in your small intestine. Although bacteria can consume some of that gas, the remaining gas is released when you pass it. However, the gas can become too excessive for your body to store, so it builds pressure in your abdomen. That's why it needs to be expelled — and it’s only part of the reason why you don’t want to hold it in for too long.
What happens when we hold in our gas?
When you hold in your gas, the good news is that you’re safe from embarrassment for at least a little while. But the bad news is that your gas doesn’t vanish just because you held it in, according to Clare Collins, PhD, a professor in nutrition and dietetics. Writing for The Conversation, Dr. Collins explains that you’re basically just building up the gas inside of you when you hold it in. According to the scientific journal Digestive Diseases and Sciences, that can cause abdominal distention, which means that the gas you held in actually gets reabsorbed into your circulation and gets exhaled through your breath. (Yuck!) And if you hold on to the gas for much too long after that, you can probably guess what happens next. “Holding on too long means the build up of intestinal gas will eventually escape via an uncontrollable fart,” writes Collins.
That’s why if you feel the need to pass gas, you should try to move to a more convenient location as soon as possible. While you might not be able to do this as quickly as you like, a trip to the bathroom is definitely in order. After all, the last thing you want to do is be holding it in all night long!