Digestive system

Distended stomach: 15 Causes, 6 Symptoms, Treatments

A distended stomach is a term that refers to the swollen stomach or extended stomach. It is not necessarily a stomach distention but distended belly, which means the abdominal distention or abdominal swelling.

However, in case of a distended belly or swollen belly, bloating correlates more. Why do we call it stomach distension or an extended stomach? It is caused by some diseases and ailments.

Bloating Vs Distension:

distended stomach
Distended stomach
Image source: healthtap.com

The most common term used to refer stomach distention is bloating. Oh yes, now you can easily correlate what distended stomach like to be. Bloating and distension are two different conditions, with a few similarities. Both these ailments come under the category of gastrointestinal symptoms.

Bloating is pretty much a significant symptom, whereas distension of stomach is associated with a limited number of conditions. Besides, bloating is not the severe symptom. It indicates a discomfort and some problem in your gastrointestinal health.

On the other hand, the distended stomach may be mild or chronic. Stomach distention may be a symptom of a fatal condition like congestive heart failure or merely a discomfort due to high fibre foods.

Why stomach distends?

Your stomach bloats or distends due to an accumulation of the substances like fluid, air or gas. As a result, the abdomen expands outwardly. The expansion goes beyond the normal circumference of your waistline. It leads to distention of the belly.

An abdominal cavity comprises of muscles, subcutaneous tissues and covered by skin. The inner lining called peritoneum also has fat and muscles.

No substantial or robust skeletal system defines the shape of the stomach. Indeed, the stomach has no framework to stay in the appropriate form of the abdominal cavity.

So, it is natural that your abdomen expands with an accumulation of food, fluid, gas, blood or any other substances.

Stomach distention is not a disease or an ailment. It is a strong indication or a symptom of some underlying medical condition. If you have a distended stomach, you may always feel fuller, abdominal pressure and mild stomach cramps.

In severe cases of abdominal distention, you may feel the upward pressure towards lungs and diaphragm. It causes shortness of breath and burping to relieve the pressure.

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What causes a distended stomach:

Any condition that affects digest may cause the stomach distention. To name a few: lactose intolerance, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, malabsorption, gas, etc.  If you’re experiencing persistent stomach distention and suspect an underlying digestive condition, consulting with a healthcare professional and discussing the possibility of an ALCAT test can help identify potential triggers and guide appropriate treatment strategies for better digestive well-being. Let us see the causes of a distended stomach.

The distended stomach may be localised or generalised. Localized abdominal distension means enlargement of specific part of the stomach or abdomen. Generalized enlargement implies distension of the entire abdomen.

The causes of generalised and localised distension may vary. The localised distended stomach is likely to be caused by the ailments located in the respective quadrant of the stomach.

Localized Stomach Distention:

In many cases, moderate to severe injury to the respective organs or chronic condition associated with the organs may lead to localised distension of stomach.

Trauma or injury to the abdominal wall – A very straight ailment that leads to the bloated belly.

Hernia – It weakens the abdominal wall. As a result, other organs in and around your abdomen protrudes, causing distended stomach.

Hepatomegaly- Enlargement of the liver called Hepatomegaly also expands your stomach. Some of the liver enlargement ailments include cirrhosis, hepatitis, liver disease due to alcohol, and liver cancer.

Heart Failure – In rare cases, failure of the heart to function commonly affects the abdominal cavity leading to swelling.

Diseases of the Gallbladder like inflammation of the bladder, gallstones, and gallbladder cancer leads to severe abdominal distension.

Kidney diseases/infections/failure – Kidney is one of the vital organs. Any ailment of kidney directly affects the stomach cavity. Kidney stones, kidney failure, polycystic kidney, or even kidney cancer causes severely distended stomach.

Colon disease – Colon is directly connected to the stomach. If the colon doesn’t function properly, it leads to stomach distension.

Uterus problems – Women with uterus problem are likely to suffer from stomach distention. It can be fibroids, endometrial, ovarian cysts, tumours in the uterus, etc. It affects the abdominal cavity.

Chronic constipation – It may not appear a severe problem, yet it is. When you fail to pass stools, the waste/toxic substances accumulate inside your abdominal cavity causing stomach distension.

Appendicitis – Inflammation of the appendix causes blooded belly.

Generalized Stomach Distention:
Excessive Eating:

Too much eating is the primary cause of distended stomach. There is a direct link to what you eat, how much you eat and how your health is. If you consume higher than your body requires your caloric intake increases.

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The stomach is a hollow organ. It fills the gap with your intake. If you don’t spend your calories, it settles in your body. Eventually, leads to multiple problems. Weight gain and bloating or abdominal distention are evident.

When you eat or drink more, your abdomen expands for a while. Imagine the scenario how it extends when you overeat!

Other medical conditions that may cause distended stomach due to excessive eating includes:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Peptic ulcer
  • Hyperacidity (All these conditions are triggered by extreme eating)
  • Acute constipation
High Fiber Foods:

Fibre is essential to keep the bowel moments ease. However, too much fibre affects your organs and leads to abdominal distension. Too much of fibre intake is unhealthy.

Intolerance or Allergy Foods:

In most cases, the distended stomach is likely caused by an intolerance or allergic reactions to certain foods. It includes:

  • Lactose intolerance (allergy to milk and milk products)
  • Gluten intolerance aka celiac disease (allergy to gluten foods like wheat)

Malabsorption of nutrients – When the abdominal cavity fails to absorb the nutrients from food, it causes swelling.

Food poisoning causes temporary abdominal distension.

Symptoms of Distended Stomach:

  • A sensation of feeling fuller with or without discomfort
  • Reduced hunger/no appetite
  • Too much belching
  • In some cases, distended stomach also includes nausea and vomiting
  • Pain and cramping accompanies when you eat more with a distended stomach
  • Fever, diarrhoea, and shortness of breath may be present in case of the chronic condition.

Often, a distended stomach is not a severe condition. You could have seen a lot of people moving around with a heavy belly, distended abdomen, or carrying a log of baggage around their stomach. It is commonly seen everywhere.

The mere change in lifestyle of a patient can ease away the bloated belly. For instance, eating right and eating only what and when your body needs.

Recurrent abdominal distention or when the bloated belly doesn’t seem to subside, it could be caused due to infections, or any undiagnosed ailments which call for proper treatment.

How to Treat Distended Stomach:

The actual cause of distended stomach makes the appropriate treatment. Until it is associated with the chronic organ ailments like cirrhosis or kidney failure, small changes in dietary habit and lifestyle recommendations can quickly reduce the bloating.

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In general, treatment for distended stomach is categorised into two parts,

  1. Dietary Changes
  2. Medications
Dietary Change:

Dietary change is crucial to treat distended stomach. You have to make the changes in your diet and strictly avoid specific foods. Some types of foods may worsen it and lead to a lot of discomforts. However, there is no absolute rule that you should stay away from these foods.

The overall choice of foods varies with every individual. However, it is recommended to stay away from overeating fibre and gas-inducing foods. There are few components of diet which your body may not digest properly. Your large intestine absorbs the undigested food and causes excessive gas.

For instance, cabbage, beans, broccoli, etc. are a few vegetables that are likely to cause distended stomach.

If you have developed stomach distension due to intolerance of foods, you should stay away from such foods.

  • Until the stomach subsides, follow the light and easily digestible foods.
  • Eat in small quantity.
  • Include a lot of fresh fruits.
  • Avoid heavy meals at night.
  • Do not go to sleep immediately after eating.
  • If you don’t feel like eating or don’t feel hunger, skip the meal. Do not follow any timetable to eat according to the clock.
Medications for Stomach Distension:

For recurrent abdominal distension, and chronic distension of stomach, proper medication is essential. Sometimes, the acute or generalised stomach distension may affect you repeatedly. Since it affects the overall health and may ruin your day to day activities, proper medications cure the condition.

The medications include medications to curb down pain, dietary supplements, enzymes, and probiotics.

The medications reduce the symptoms of distension. It controls the growth of bacteria, reduces the belching and gas.

Probiotics are essential to nurture the growth of friendly bacteria in your body. It treats the stomach distension by enhancing the digestion process, reduces the gas and improves the gut flora.

Treatment for stomach distension in other cases like enlargement of the liver, gallstones, or kidney stones, proper treatment is essential for that specific ailment.

The stomach distension may be just gas or may be an indication of some severe condition. If the distension doesn’t subside, over a few days to a couple of weeks, consult with a physician.

  1. https://www.healthline.com/symptom/abdominal-swelling  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdominal_distension
  2. https://www.medindia.net/patients/patientinfo/abdominal-distension.htm
  3. https://www.medicinenet.com/distended_stomach_abdominal_distention/symptoms.htm
  4. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abdominal_distension#Diagnosis
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4991532/

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