Background & aims: Abdominal symptoms are often attributed to intestinal gas. In humans, gas production and composition have been previously investigated, but intestinal gas dynamics and tolerance remain virtually unknown. The aim of this study was to establish the relationship between intestinal gas loads, evacuation, perception of symptoms, and objective abdominal distention in healthy humans.
Methods: A dose-response study was performed in 46 healthy subjects; intestinal gas was infused for 3 hours (0, 1, 4, 12, and 30 mL/min), and anal gas evacuation, symptom perception, and abdominal distention were measured. A mixture of gases was infused in venous proportions to minimize diffusion. Anal gas recovery and calculations of gas retention were validated using sulfur hexafluoride as a nonabsorbable gaseous marker.
Results: At all of the infusion rates, gas evacuation rapidly equilibrated and paralleled gas infusion without significant differences in perception. Only 6 subjects retained >400 mL gas, and 5 of them developed abdominal distention and symptoms. By contrast, all but 4 of the 41 subjects without retention tolerated the gas loads without discomfort.
Conclusions: Intestinal gas tolerance is normally high, because expeditious gas transit and evacuation prevent gas pooling and symptoms. When this protective mechanism is insufficient, gas retention occurs, and it causes abdominal symptoms and distention.