DefinitionA swollen abdomen is when your belly area is bigger than usual.
Alternative NamesSwollen belly; Swelling in the abdomen; Abdominal distention; Distended abdomen
Common CausesAbdominal 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 syndromeLactose intoleranceOvarian cystPartial bowel blockagePregnancyPremenstrual syndrome (PMS)Uterine fibroidsWeight gain
Home CareA 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 beveragesAvoid chewing gum or sucking on candiesAvoid drinking through a straw or sipping the surface of a hot beverageEat slowlyFor a swollen abdomen caused by malabsorption, try changing your diet and limiting milk. Talk to your doctor.For irritable bowel syndrome:Decrease emotional stressIncrease dietary fiberTalk to your doctorFor a swollen abdomen due to other causes, follow prescribed therapy to treat the cause.
Call your health care provider ifCall your health care provider if:The abdominal swelling is getting worse and does not go awayThe swelling occurs with other unexplained symptomsYour abdomen is tender to the touchYou have a high feverYou have severe diarrhea or bloody stoolsYou are unable to eat or drink for more than 6 - 8 hours
What to expect at your health care provider's officeYour 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 periodDiarrheaExcessive fatigueExcessive gas or belchingIrritabilityVomitingWeight gainTests that may be done include:Abdominal CT scanAbdominal ultrasoundBlood testsColonoscopyEsophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)ParacentesisSigmoidoscopyStool analysisX-rays of the abdomen
ReferencesMcquaid 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.