What causes abdominal swelling? 67 possible conditions

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What Is a Swollen Abdomen?

A swollen abdomen occurs when your stomach area is larger than normal. This is sometimes called a distended abdomen or swollen belly. A swollen abdomen has a number of potential causes, and it is a common occurrence.

When To Call Your Doctor

It’s unlikely that your swollen abdomen is the result of any serious illness, but there are a few things you should look out for. Call your doctor if your abdomen is getting bigger or you have other symptoms that accompany the swelling, such as fever or nausea. Seek medical care if you have extreme diarrhea or blood in your stool. If you find that you’re unable to eat or drink for more than eight hours, tell your doctor.

Potential Causes of Abdominal Swelling

Your abdomen could be swollen for a number of different reasons, ranging from eating too much to pregnancy. Only your doctor will be able to determine the exact cause of your swollen abdomen.

Most Common Causes

Some of the most common causes of abdominal swelling include overeating and gas. Swallowing air as part of a nervous habit or eating foods that are high in fiber can lead to gas production. If this gas isn’t released, it can lead to abdominal swelling. There are a few medical conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome and lactose intolerance, that commonly cause abdominal swelling as well.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a disorder that causes cramping and pain in your stomach, among other symptoms. IBS can also cause bloating and gas, which could cause you to have a distended abdomen. According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in every six Americans has symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is a condition that occurs when your body is unable to digest lactose, a sugar that is found in dairy products. Symptoms of lactose intolerance include abdominal bloating and gas, which can cause your abdomen to swell. If you experience a swollen abdomen within two hours of ingesting dairy, you might be lactose intolerant. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, lactose intolerance is fairly uncommon in those of European descent. If you are of Asian, African, or Native American descent, your chances of being lactose intolerant are higher (NCBI, 2012).

Ascites

Ascites is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up inside your abdomen. This build up is usually caused by problems with your liver, such as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when your liver becomes extremely scarred. When ascites first develops, you probably won’t notice any symptoms. As the fluid accumulates over time, you’ll start to notice your abdomen becoming more and more swollen. Ascites can cause you discomfort.

Less Common Causes

Your swollen abdomen could be caused by a number of other, less common symptoms. These include:

  • gallstones
  • pancreatitis
  • a blockage in your intestine
  • an ovarian cyst
  • weight gain

Treating Your Swollen Abdomen at Home

Depending upon the cause of your swollen abdomen, you might be able to treat your symptoms easily at home. If your abdomen is swollen because you eat too much, simply waiting for your food to digest could solve your problem. Eating smaller meals can help prevent this problem in the future. Also, consider eating more slowly to give your food time to be processed by your stomach.

If your abdomen is swollen because of gas, try avoiding foods that are known to cause gas, such as beans and cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage. Avoid drinking carbonated drinks and drinking out of a straw. Eating slowly can also help prevent you from swallowing air, which leads to gas.

Avoiding dairy products can help relieve abdominal swelling caused by lactose intolerance. In the case of IBS, decreasing your stress levels and raising your fiber intake have been shown to help relieve symptoms. If you have ascites, bed rest and reducing your sodium intake can help your body get rid of the excess fluid.

Medical Treatment

If rest and lowering the amount of sodium in your diet don’t work to relieve symptoms, your doctor might suggest using diuretics. Diuretics will help your kidneys remove more of the distention-causing fluid. In rare cases, an infection can develop in your ascitic fluid. If this happens, you’ll need to undergo rigorous treatment with antibiotics.

When it comes to IBS and lactose intolerance, there is not much medical treatment available to relieve your swollen abdomen.

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Pregnancy

Bleeding or spotting, increased need to urinate, tender breasts, fatigue, nausea, and missed period are signs of pregnancy.

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2

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes many uncomfortable symptoms, such as bloating, gas, cramping, diarrhea, constipation, and pain.

Read more »

3

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

Read more »

4

Gallstones

Gallstones are hard deposits in the gallbladder that can eventually block the exiting bile ducts. Abdominal pain, fever, itchy skin, and jaundice are possible symptoms.

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5

Ascites

Ascites is when fluid fills the space between the lining of the abdomen and the organs. It usually occurs when the liver stops working properly, causing abdominal bloating and pain, and nausea.

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6

Teenage Pregnancy

Teenage pregnancy is pregnancy in a woman 19 years of age or younger. A woman can get pregnant if she has vaginal sex with a man at any age after she has started having regular monthly periods. Some signs of pregnanc...

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7

Appendicitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Appendicitis is inflammation of the appendix, which can be fatal if left untreated. The telltale sign is pain that usually starts as mild cramping, especially on the right side, and becomes more severe over time.

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8

Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is severe scarring and poor function of the liver caused by long-term exposure to toxins such as alcohol or viral infections. Certain medications and disorder can also cause cirrhosis.

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9

Ovarian Cysts

Most women will develop at least one cyst on their ovaries during their lives. In most cases, these cysts are painless and cause no symptoms.

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10

Food Allergy Basics

Food allergies are overblown responses by the immune system to foods that aren't typically harmful - like eggs and peanuts. Continue reading and learn more about food allergies, and how to prevent or treat sever...

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11

Acute Pancreatitis

Acute pancreatitis is an inflammation in the pancreas, which causes pain and swelling in the upper left side of the abdomen, nausea, and burping.

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12

Peritonitis

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Peritonitis is the inflammation of a thin layer of tissue inside the abdomen. Caused by bacteria or fungus, it causes tenderness, bloating, fatigue, greying of the skin, and other problems.

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13

PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome)

Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is a condition that affects a woman

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14

Ectopic Pregnancy

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

Ectopic pregnancies occur when a fertilized egg fails to attach to the uterus. In most ectopic pregnancies, the egg will attach to the fallopian tubes. Less common, it may also attach to the abdominal cavity or cervix...

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15

Malabsorption Syndrome

Malabsorption syndrome occurs when the intestine's ability to absorb important nutrients is compromised. Certain conditions, such as Celiac disease, cystic fibrosis, and dairy allergies may lead to malabsorption.

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16

Intestinal Obstruction

If your small or large intestine becomes blocked, fluid and digested food cannot move through. This can cause bloating, stomach cramps, and burping.

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17

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Damage to the liver from excessive drinking can lead to ALD. Years of alcohol abuse cause the liver to become inflamed and swollen. This damage can also cause scarring known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the final stage o...

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18

Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Symptoms vary but can include arthritis, fatigue, and abdominal symptoms.

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19

Hernia

A hernia occurs when an organ pushes through the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. Hernias are most common in the abdomen. However, they can also appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin regions.

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20

Hepatitis

Hepatitis is swelling and inflammation of the liver. It's usually caused by a viral infection. There are several types of hepatitis, including: A, B, C, D, and E. Symptoms may not occur until liver damage occurs.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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