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 health care provider.
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.
- 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 health care provider will perform a physical exam and ask questions about your medical history, such as when the problem began and when it occurs.
The health care 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:
Swollen belly; Swelling in the abdomen; Abdominal distention; Distended abdomen
Mcquaid K. Approach to the patient with gastrointestinal disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 134.
Squires RA, Postier RG. Acute abdomen. In: Townsend CM Jr, Beauchamp RD, Evers BM, Mattox KL, eds. Sabiston Textbook of Surgery. 19th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 47.
Update Date 11/2/2014
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.