What Is Abdominal Distension?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 30 December 2019
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The term "abdominal distension" is used to describe a few different possible conditions, relating to both the perception that bloating is occurring in the stomach and also actual physical bloating with a noticeable increase in the size of the stomach. There are many different issues that can potentially cause abdominal bloating, including serious conditions that represent a real danger to health and minor problems that aren’t considered threatening. Abdominal distension isn’t always painful, but it can be very uncomfortable, and if the condition is caused by something more serious, severe pain wouldn’t necessarily be uncommon.

Most of the time, abdominal distension is caused by some kind of minor digestive malady. For example, if people eat foods they have difficulty digesting, such as high-fiber foods, they might have the sensation that their stomach is bloating or even experience a slight increase in the size of the stomach. This is because more gas is produced when the body is digesting foods that aren’t especially easy to process. Even though these foods may cause more gas than usual, many of them are considered very healthy to eat, and when the excess gas is passed through flatulence or burping, the symptoms will generally disappear.


Sometimes abdominal distension can happen even when people are eating foods that are normally very easy to digest. In these cases, it can be a sign that something more serious is going on, especially if it happens chronically. For example, irritable bowel syndrome, which can be a very difficult chronic digestive condition, often leads to long bouts with uncomfortable abdominal distension. Allergies to food, such as lactose intolerance, can also cause severe abdominal distension issues that pop up any time the offending food is eaten.

In the lead-up to menstruation and often during menstruation, many women experience a bloated feeling along with actual physical bloating due to the body’s tendency to take on excess water during that time. Bloating associated with menstrual patterns, although it may be very uncomfortable, is not generally considered dangerous. Some women report success with multivitamin supplements as a way to lessen the problem.

There are some cases where abdominal bloating might be associated with an especially severe condition of some kind, and in these situations, there may be other accompanying symptoms. For example, if someone is suffering with gallstones, he or she might have a feeling of bloating along with severe pain, vomiting, and fever. Another example would be congestive heart disease, which can cause the body to retain water, leading to abdominal distension along with breathing issues and other symptoms.


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