Daisy Grasso was in college when she first realized something was wrong. “My boyfriend used to complain about my farts waking him up,” she says. “He got earplugs, but that didn’t address the odor.” Soon, doctors diagnosed Grasso with butt apnea. “When I learned the condition was incurable, that’s when Dave broke up with me.” Grasso wipes away a tear. “I mean it makes sense, y’know? He really wants kids. If these are my not-pregnant farts…” She trails off, sobbing.
Grasso is not alone. An estimated 1 in 5 women suffers from chronic night farts, as the disorder is commonly known. Symptoms include bloating, painful cramps, and uncontrollable farting during sleep upwards of four nights a week. Shame keeps many women from seeking treatment, and many try to self-medicate with over-the-counter gas relievers. “Plain and simple, they do not work,” says gastroenterologist Ginny Larkin. “Farts that happen in your sleep are up to 20 times trickier than regular farts. They have a mind of their own.” She also advises against the use of butt strips, which claim to open up the passageways of the anal tract, as they can lead to anal inflammation and “really scary farts.”
Instead, butt apnea is addressed through extreme diet modification, which is no easy fix. “We can reduce the farts somewhat,” Dr. Larkin notes, “but we can’t stop them entirely.”
Some women opt for a more holistic treatment for nocturnal anal emissions with therapists like Dr. Liza Pinto. Her unorthodox office is covered in chakra charts and diagrams of the rectum, as well as a wealth of reading material. When Dr. Pinto meets a new patient, her first step is to offer pamphlets like Getting to Know Your Farts and Sorry I Farted On Your Balls and Always The Big Spoon…. “Patients need to get in touch with their digestive system. That’s the first step towards gaining control over this.” Dr. Pinto performs massage and prescribes visualization techniques to increase muscle tone in the anal sphincter. “A lot of people think a more elastic anus means more gas leakage,” she says. “Actually, it’s like a rubber band. If it’s stretched tight all the time, it can’t bounce back. You need flexibility to control those butt burps.”
Results from a recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine demonstrate that patients who reported the greatest degree of improvement were those employing both treatment options at once. However, no patient was able to reduce incidents of night farts by more than 25%.
Dr. Larkin acknowledges the embarrassment some patients encounter before seeking treatment, but warns against putting it off. “If you stay silent, it could be deadly.”