Alternative names: Swollen belly; Swelling in the abdomen; Abdominal distention; Distended abdomen
Definition: A swollen abdomen is when your belly area is bigger than usual.
Abdominal swelling or distention is more often caused by overeating than by a serious illness. This problem also 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
- Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Uterine fibroids
- Weight gain
A swollen abdomen that is caused by eating a heavy meal will go away when you digest the food. Eating smaller amounts 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 health care provider.
For irritable bowel syndrome:
For a swollen abdomen due to other causes, follow the treatment prescribed by your provider.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your 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 to 8 hours.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
Your provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, such as when the problem began and when it occurs.
The provider will also ask about other symptoms you may be having, such as:
- Absent menstrual period
- Excessive fatigue
- Excessive gas or belching
- Weight gain
Tests that may be done include:
- Abdominal CT scan
- Abdominal ultrasound
- Blood tests
- Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD)
- Stool analysis
- X-rays of the abdomen
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Raftery AT, Lim E, Östör AJK. Abdominal swellings. In: Raftery AT, Lim E, Östör AJK, eds. Churchill’s Pocketbook of Differential Diagnosis. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014:10-25.
Squires R, Carter SN, Postier RG. Acute abdomen. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 45.