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Swollen Stomach

What is a Swollen Stomach?

 The term “swollen stomach” is the general descriptions to use to mean abdominal distention or bloating. However, it may also involve isolated swelling of any quadrant of the abdomen. In dealing with abdominal bloating or stomach swelling, it always involves the assessment of the five (5) Fs:


Flatus. This means that the abdominal distention is due to the accumulation of gas in the gastrointestinal tract, which may be secondary to some events such as aerophagia or swallowing of air. It can also be caused by gas produced from bacterial action on food which contains carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrogen which usually stay in the small and large intestines. Flatus can also be brought about by nitrogen gas that diffuses from the blood into the gastrointestinal tract. Excessive abdominal gas can be manifested through belching.

Fat. This is the weight gain or the percentage of fat in the body. The normal body fat is 15% to 20% in men and 22% to 28% in women. Fat can accumulate throughout the body but they are more pronounced in the areas such as abdomen for both sexes as well as the hips, thighs, and buttocks in women.

Fluid. Fluid accumulation may occur in the peritoneal cavity, which extends downward into the pelvic cavity. In men, there is usually little or no intraperitoneal fluid but may have at about 20% in women and may change during the course of the menstrual cycle. However, abnormal accumulation of fluid in the abdomen can happen and be due to underlying conditions such as liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, infection, kidney and heart failure, etc.

Feces. As digested food and water pass through the colon, the colon allows absorption of the residual nutrients and water as well as serves as storage of some contents and feces. However, if in any case the colon cannot do its function very well, the contents lodged within the colon will cause obstruction and failure to pass feces regularly will lead to more serious conditions such as constipation, obstipation, tumor, colon paralysis, Hirschsprung disease, volvulus, etc.

Fetus. Abdominal distention is common during pregnancy. An individual who is in the reproductive age should be tested whether or not she is positive for pregnancy to better establish the cause of the abdominal swelling.

swollen stomach

Swollen Stomach Symptoms

The following is the list of the common symptoms encountered in stomach swelling or abdominal distention:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Belching
  3. Bowel habit changes
  4. Diarrhea
  5. Flatulence and gas
  6. Indigestion
  7. Nausea and vomiting
  8. Loss of appetite

Other symptoms:

  1. Easily bruised
  2. Fatigue
  3. Fever and flulike symptoms
  4. Amenorrhea or missed menstrual periods
  5. Pale skin

Life-threatening symptoms that need immediate medical attention:

  1. Bloody stool
  2.  Chest pain
  3.  Difficult, rapid, and short breathing
  4.  Dizziness or fainting
  5.  High fever
  6.  Pulsating mass in the abdominal area
  7.  Severe pain in the abdomen
  8.  Vomiting blood
  9.  Weakness
  10.  Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes

Swollen Stomach Causes

Swelling of the abdomen can be caused by various conditions. Among which are listed below:

Gastrointestinal causes:

  1. Appendicitis
  2. Celiac disease
  3. Colorectal or pancreatic cancer
  4. Food poisoning
  5. Gastritis
  6. Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, which are an inflammatory bowel disease
  7. Lactose intolerance
  8. Diseases of the liver and surrounding organs

Other causes may include problems in different organs in the body other than the digestive system:

  1. Abdominal tumor
  2. Alcohol abuse
  3. Ovarian cysts
  4. Swallowing of air
  5. Uterine fibroids
  6. Weight gain

Swollen Stomach Diagnosis

The diagnosis of a swelling stomach can be done by physical examination, laboratory tests, radiographic exams, etc.

Physical Examination

  1. Assessment of sounds coming from the intestines
  2. Noting signs of inflammation
  3. Location of tenderness
  4. The presence of mass within the abdominal area which may suggest a tumor or organ enlargement
  5. Evidence of blood in the stool

Laboratory Tests

  1. Elevated levels of white blood cell count indicated infection
  2. The enzymes amylase and lipase are usually elevated in pancreatitis
  3. Liver enzymes are increased during gallstone attacks
  4. Bloody urine may indicate kidney problems such as kidney stones

Radiographic Exams

  1. Abdominal ultrasound
  2. CT scan
  3. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  4. Barium X-ray

Endoscopic Procedures

  1. Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) – detects ulcers, gastritis, and stomach cancers
  2. Colonoscopy – diagnoses colon problems such as colon cancer and ulcerative and infectious colitis
  3. Balloon enteroscopy – endoscopes are allowed to pass through the mouth or anus to reach the small intestine so that problems in this area will be biopsied, diagnosed, and treated promptly

Treatment for Swollen Stomach

Since stomach swelling have various causes, it is better to treat the condition based on the underlying causes. For excessive gas, mild constipation, and diarrhea, over-the-counter medications are available. These medications include loperamide, diphenoxylate, and atropine. For stomach swelling secondary to the accumulation of fluid inside the abdominal cavity, the doctor may use a needle to drain the fluid. For severe abdominal obstruction which may lead to more serious conditions, a hospital visit will be more appropriate so that immediate and prompt treatment will be provided.

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