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Abdomen - swollen

Definition

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

See also: Abdominal girth

Alternative Names

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

Considerations

Abdominal swelling, or distention, is a common condition, which usually results from over-eating, rather than from a serious illness. Simple weight gain, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), pregnancy, or the unconscious swallowing of air can lead to this problem.

Abdominal distention is often due to gas in the intestines. This may result from eating fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables. Beans are common sources of intestinal gas. Dairy foods can lead to abdominal swelling if you are lactose intolerant.

Abdominal swelling may also occasionally result from the accumulation of fluid in the abdomen, which can be a sign of serious medical problems. There are usually other symptoms in this case.

Causes

Home Care

A swollen abdomen that results from eating a heavy meal will go away when the food is digested. Eating in moderation will help prevent swelling.

For a swollen abdomen caused by swallowing air, awareness often leads to self-control. Eat slowly, avoid carbonated beverages, avoid chewing gum or sucking on candies, avoid drinking through a straw, or sipping the surface of a hot beverage.

For swollen abdomen caused by malabsorption, try changing diets and reducing milk consumption. Consult your doctor.

For irritable bowel syndrome, increase dietary fiber, decrease emotional stress, and consult your doctor.

For swollen abdomen resulting from other causes, follow prescribed therapy to treat the underlying 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

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

Your health care provider 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 specific foods?
  • What other symptoms occur at the same time? For example, have you had:

Tests that may be done include:

References

Proctor DD. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 134.

Postier RG, Squires RA. Acute abdomen. In: Townsend CM, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 18th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2008:chap 45.


Review Date: 11/16/2008
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Family Physician, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pathophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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