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Abdomen – swollen

Abdomen – swollen

A swollen abdomen is when your belly area is bigger than usual.

Causes

Abdominal swelling, or distention, is more often caused by overeating than by a serious illness. This problem can be caused by:

  • Air swallowing (a nervous habit)
  • Buildup of fluid in the abdomen (this can be a sign of a serious medical problem)
  • Gas in the intestines from eating foods that are high in fiber (such as fruits and vegetables)
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Lactose intolerance
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Partial bowel blockage
  • Pregnancy
  • Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
  • Uterine fibroids
  • Weight gain

Home Care

A swollen abdomen that is caused by eating a heavy meal will go away when you digest the food. Eating in moderation will help prevent swelling.

For a swollen abdomen caused by swallowing air:

  • Avoid carbonated beverages
  • Avoid chewing gum or sucking on candies
  • Avoid drinking through a straw or sipping the surface of a hot beverage
  • Eat slowly

For a swollen abdomen caused by malabsorption, try changing your diet and limiting milk. Talk to your doctor.

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For irritable bowel syndrome:

  • Decrease emotional stress
  • Increase dietary fiber
  • Talk to your doctor

For a swollen abdomen due to other causes, follow prescribed therapy to treat the cause.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • The abdominal swelling is getting worse and does not go away
  • The swelling occurs with other unexplained symptoms
  • Your abdomen is tender to the touch
  • You have a high fever
  • You have severe diarrhea or bloody stools
  • You are unable to eat or drink for more than 6 – 8 hours

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, such as:

  • Time pattern
    • When did the abdominal swelling begin?
    • Does it occur after meals or after eating certain foods?
  • What other symptoms occur at the same time? For example, have you had:
    • Absent menstrual period
    • Diarrhea
    • Excessive fatigue
    • Excessive gas or belching
    • Irritability
    • Vomiting
    • Weight gain
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Tests that may be done include:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal ultrasound
  • Blood tests
  • Colonoscopy
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
  • Paracentesis
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Stool analysis
  • X-rays of the abdomen

Alternative Names

Swollen belly; Swelling in the abdomen; Abdominal distention; Distended abdomen

References

Mcquaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 134.

Squires RA, Postier RG. Acute abdomen.In:Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 47.

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