Reasons for Abdominal Distention or Distended Abdomen in Adults

Jeannette | Posted on June 3, 2022 
Abdominal Distention

A swollen abdomen when grows outwards abnormally, this refers to as abdominal distention or a distended abdomen. This change may be seen, measured, and even felt. A distended belly can be caused by gas bloating or by an accumulation of fluid, tissue, or gastrointestinal contents. It can be either acute or chronic.

What an abdominal distention can be described in detail?

A bloated abdomen is noticeably larger than normal. It is frequently accompanied with a sensation of being bloated due to trapped gas or stomach secretions. Abdominal distension, on the other hand, is not usually caused by digestive processes. A distended abdomen is diagnosed due to few factors: flatus (gas), fetus’s (pregnancy), faeces or fat.

A distended abdomen may be painful or merely a sign which you and your medical provider notice visually. It might be acute — a rapid, uncommon event — or chronic — something which occurs and settles itself in a predictable manner on a regular basis. Chronic abdominal distension followed by an unpleasant bloated sensation is frequently associated with a digestive condition.

What are causes of abdominal distention in adults and what are its indication?

A swollen or a distended abdomen can be either biological or functional. An illness, for example, can be described by physical evidence. Functional issues are visible yet unexplained.

Gastrointestinal Disorders

Organic reasons:


  • Water retention is caused by menstruation.
  • Recent significant excessive weight, which tends to be retained as intra-abdominal fat but may constrain digestion.
  • A minor or major intestinal blockage that causes a buildup of gas and waste materials.
  • Gastroparesis is a temporary paralysis of the abdomen that causes a buildup of digestive contents.
  • Gas and bloating are symptoms of gastrointestinal illnesses and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
  • Abdominal lining inflammation (peritonitis).
  • A fluid buildup in the abdomen produced by liver problems (ascites).
  • Organ enlargement caused by inflammation or growth.
  • Internal bruising (intra-abdominal hemorrhage).

Functional reasons:

Digestion difficulties that cause gas and/or digestive contents to collect are common functional causes of a distended abdomen. Possible causes include:

  • Gas caused by functional indigestion, dietary intolerances, or IBS (IBS).
  • Constipation causes stools to accumulate and digestive contents to back up.
  • Urinary retention causes urine to accumulate.
  • A condition of the muscular contractions engaged in digestion that causes digestive contents to back up (intestinal pseudo-obstruction).
  • Weak abdominal muscles allow the abdominal contents to droop outward and downward (enteroptosis).

How could healthcare practitioners manage abdominal distention:

If you consult a doctor for your distended abdomen, your doctor will investigate the reason. They will start by inquiring about your symptoms for distended abdomen and inspecting your abdomen to check where it is distended. The position of the outward curvature, whether uniform over your abdominal wall or more apparent in one area, assists them in determining which organs are damaged and narrowing the list of possible reasons. To assess the existence of fluids, gases, or solids, they could also feel the region using their hands or strike it and hear the sound it creates.

The abdominal internal organs are divided into two types: solid and hollow. These can swell and cause distended abdomen as a result of inflammation or overgrowth such as a tumor, abscess, or cyst. Your healthcare practitioner may be able to detect whether they are enlarged by feeling them, or they may need to see an imaging of the internal organs. A big growth may be felt through the skin. Your healthcare professional will use imaging tests to establish your problem, then follow up with multiple testing and treatment as needed.

Fluid buildup in the membrane of the abdominal cavity, known as the peritoneum, is another reason of abdominal distension. These tissues could become inflamed due to infection, or they can fill with fluid due to a disease known as ascites. Ascites is a condition that arises when pressure on the blood arteries in the liver which is called as portal hypertension that pulls fluid into the abdominal cavity. A physical exam may typically reveal fluid in the peritoneum, but an ultrasound examination is more sensitive.

Management of abdominal distention:

If the reason of your distended abdomen is organic, the therapy will be tailored to that cause. It might signify dealing with a sickness, infection, growth, impediment, or harm. When the underlying cause is addressed, an acute case will resolve. A chronic condition may benefit from the addition of diuretics (for fluid retention), laxatives (for constipation), or active carbon capsules (for gas).

If the source of your functional abdominal distension is unknown, managing it may need some trial and error. A hydrogen breath test may be recommended by your healthcare physician to assist diagnose the reason of excessive intestinal gas. They may also advise you to try dietary modifications, probiotics, or enzymes to help with digestion.

Tips to practice to avoid abdominal distention at home:

Knowing the reason makes prevention easier. If you detect stomach distension after eating, you could be able to adjust your food patterns to avoid it. As an example:

  • Determine your dietary sensitivities and modify your diet appropriately.
  • Consume smaller portions more slowly. Allow more time between meals.
  • To avoid waste buildup, drink lots of water and consume more fiber.
  • Before meals, consider digestive enzymes and probiotics.

When should I consider abdominal distention as an emergency?

Seek medical attention if you have the following symptoms of abdominal distension:

  • It just keeps on getting worse and worse.
  • It is accompanied by acute stomach discomfort.
  • It is accompanied with disease symptoms such as fever, vomiting, or bleeding.
  • If it is a long-term issue for which you have no explanation.

See Also: Gastrointestinal and Stomach Issues After Covid-19: What to Know and Expect.

Bottom line:

A distended abdomen is frequently a transitory digestive problem, although it can be painful and possibly suggest a dangerous illness. It is not necessary to suffer in quiet. If you are having a digestive issue, your doctor can help you figure out what’s causing it and how to treat it at home. If you have a serious ailment that’s not improving, you must seek medical attention. A symptom might be a gift in disguise, leading you to cure an unknown ailment or merely uncover a food intolerance.

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