Abdomen - swollen

Abdomen - swollen


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

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

I Would Like to Learn About:

  • 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.

    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

    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

Related Information

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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.


Review Date: 10/14/2012  

Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.

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