Health Information Library
Abdomen - swollen
A swollen abdomen is when your belly area is bigger than usual.
See also: Abdominal girth
Swollen belly; Swelling in the abdomen; Abdominal distention; Distended abdomen
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
- 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 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:
For a swollen abdomen due to other causes, follow prescribed therapy to treat the cause.
Call your health care provider if
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 health care provider's office
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:
Tests that may be done include:
Bengiamin RN, Budhram GR, King KE, Wightman JM. Abdominal pain. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier;2009:chap 21.
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.
Reviewed By: Linda Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, 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.