Abdominal bloating occurs when the abdomen fills with air or gas. This may cause the area to appear larger or swollen. The abdomen may feel hard or tight to the touch. It can also cause discomfort and abdominal pain.
Possible causes of abdominal bloating and abdominal pain
- lactose intolerance
- acid reflux
- intestinal obstruction
- dyspepsia (indigestion)
- viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu)
- premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
- celiac disease/gluten intolerance
- hiatal hernia
- H. pylori infection
- colic and crying
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- ovarian cyst
- E. coli infection
- urinary tract infection (UTI)
- ectopic pregnancy
- Crohn’s disease
- hookworm infection
- stomach cancer (gastric adenocarcinoma)
- ovarian cancer
- cystic fibrosis
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
When to see a doctor
In some cases, abdominal bloating and pain occur due to a serious problem. Seek medical help if you have abdominal pain and bloating that appear suddenly or along with:
- uncontrolled vomiting
- blood in your vomit
- blood in your stool
- a loss of consciousness
- no bowel movements for three days
- uncontrolled diarrhea
Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience abdominal pain and bloating that occur:
- after nearly every meal you eat
- with nausea
- with painful bowel movements
- with painful sexual intercourse
This information is a summary. Seek medical attention if you suspect you need urgent care.
Abdominal bloating and pain treatments
Treatments for abdominal bloating and pain will address the underlying condition. Examples may include antibiotics for infections. If an intestinal obstruction is the cause, your doctor may encourage bowel rest by decreasing oral intake. If there is a deficiency of movement of contents within the GI tract, your doctor may prescribe medications to encourage intestinal movement. Surgery may be necessary in severe instances.
Here are some suggestions for home care:
- Drink plenty of water or other clear fluids to help reduce abdominal pain and bloating.
- Avoid pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications until you know your pain isn’t due to abdominal conditions such as a gastric ulcer or an intestinal obstruction.
- Avoid solid foods for a few hours in favor of softer, bland foods such as rice or applesauce.
- Try taking over-the-counter gas-reducing medications, such as simethicone drops or digestive enzymes, to help relieve bloating.
Where is your abdominal bloating and pain?
Pain in different areas of the abdomen can mean different things. Abdominal pain can be anywhere between the chest and the pelvis. People often call it a stomachache. The pain can also be:
Causes of abdominal bloating and pain can vary from mild to severe. Most of the time, abdominal bloating and pain occur due to:
This kind of bloating or pain is usually normal and will go away within two hours. In cases of the stomach flu, you may feel intense pain or bloating that comes and goes before each episode of vomiting or diarrhea. Stomach viruses usually go away with rest and home care.
This guide lists the organs associated with different locations of abdominal bloating or pain:
Left side of the abdomen
Upper left: This part of the abdomen contains a portion of the body of your stomach, the tail of the pancreas, and your spleen. The spleen is an organ that filters blood and supports the immune system.
Center left and center middle: The transverse colon and the small intestine make up the center left and center middle of the abdomen. The small intestine is where most food digestion occurs. The transverse colon is the upper part of the large intestine, where unabsorbed food is carried after going through the ascending colon. The small intestine is the organ that takes up most of the abdomen.
Lower left: The descending and sigmoid colon portions are the part of the digestive system that stores remains of unabsorbed food and waste before they leave your body.
Middle of the abdomen
Upper middle: The upper middle part of the abdomen contains the liver, the cardiac region of the stomach, part of the body of the stomach, the pyloric region of the stomach, and the pancreas. The liver filters blood and creates bile, which is a substance that helps in the breakdown and absorption of fat in the foods you eat. The cardiac region of the stomach is where food enters from the esophagus. The pyloric region of the stomach is the last part of the stomach before food enters into the duodenum of the small intestine. The pancreas is a large glandular organ that releases digestive enzymes and hormones.
Lower middle: The lower middle part of the abdomen contains the urinary bladder, rectum, and anus. The urinary bladder is the organ where you collect urine for excretion out of the body through the urethra. The rectum goes into the anus, the final section of the large intestine that carries stool for excretion from the body.
Right side of the abdomen
Upper right: The upper right side of your abdomen contains the gallbladder, liver, and first part of the small intestine. The gallbladder is a small sac that stores bile made by the liver. The duodenum, known as the first portion of the small intestine, is where food empties from the stomach into the small intestine.
Center right: The center right side of the abdomen contains the ascending colon and the transverse colon. Food then passes from the ascending colon to the transverse colon.
Lower right: The cecum of the large intestine with the appendix and the small intestine are in the lower right side of the abdomen. The cecum is the first part of the large intestine that the end of the small intestine connects to. Some experts believe the appendix plays a role in the immune system. Others think it has no purpose.
If your doctor performs a physical exam and then suspects a medical condition is causing your abdominal bloating or pain, they’ll run various medical tests. The types of tests they order will depend on your medical history and physical exam results.
Some common tests for abdominal problems include the following:
- Complete blood count: This test checks for levels of different cells in your blood as a way to rule out an infection or detect blood loss.
- Urine test: This checks for UTIs and other urinary tract disorders. They’ll also probably check for pregnancy if you’re a woman.
- Stool analysis: This test checks for abnormalities in your stool that could indicate an infection or problem with your digestive system.
- Imaging test: Your doctor may use one or more imaging technologies to check for structural abnormalities in your abdominal organs. These may include radiation imaging such as fluoroscopic imaging, a plain film X-ray, or a CT scan. They may also be another form of imaging such as an MRI scan or an ultrasound. Ultrasonography involves applying a handheld device that emits sound waves to the skin’s surface to see inside the body.
How can I prevent abdominal bloating and abdominal pain?
Avoiding foods known to cause abdominal bloating and lower abdominal pain can help reduce most symptoms. This includes high-fat, spicy, or greasy foods. Other lifestyle changes that can prevent the symptoms include:
- avoiding artificial sweeteners, which may cause bloating
- drinking plenty of water, which helps to reduce constipation
- eating a diet that contains high-fiber foods that promote digestion, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- eating several small meals per day instead of fewer larger ones
- exercising regularly
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