Your stomach has been distended for a while and it's starting to get on your nerves. You wait for a few more days and it's not going down. You start to worry.
Do you see a doctor now or wait for a few more days? In between the thoughts you try to remember if you had been eating too much lately, if you had maybe gained some weight recently, if you could have gotten pregnant or going through PMS (if you're a lady)….the more worried types may even think of a gastrointestinal disorder or even cancer. You could all be right.
When it comes to abdominal swelling, the scary thing is that it could be anything.
What are you to do if the swelling is not going away?
One thing is for sure.
You do need to make an appointment with your doctor but before you need to think things through to help yourself and your doctor pinpoint the exact problem. When it comes to symptoms with numerous possible causes, misdiagnoses are more than likely to occur.
The first thing you need to do is to describe the type of your abdominal swelling. Is it an abdominal mass, distention, fullness, ascites, a pulsatile abdominal swelling or a flank mass? Then try to remember if you had been having any additional symptoms at all.
- digestive symptoms
- intestinal symptoms
- stool symptoms
- weight-related symptoms
- muscular problems?
Have you been
- feeling nauseous
- felt fatigue
- had any bleeding episodes?
Think hard, any symptom may be relevant, and write it down.
The next thing you need to think about is when any of these symptoms usually appear?
- Does a specific action trigger or aggravate your symptoms?
- Do they appear at a specific time of the day?
- Do the symptoms get worse on a stressful day?
Now you see your doctor.
At the doctor's office, you will be taken anamnesis. Don't you just love those bad words? Taking anamnesis means asking questions about your preliminary medical history as well as your family's, they will like to know your age and your troubles and this is where you come in with all the stuff you had previously thoroughly thought and written down.
According to what you had said and the results of the physical exam (looking, touching, kicking, poking, squeezing, etc) done by the doctor, they will then decide to do one of the following tests:
- A blood test to check for anemia, inflammation, electrolytes, pancreatic enzymes, etc
- A stool examination (following rectal examination) to check for occult blood
- Radiographic examinations including abdominal x-ray, esophagus x-rays, barium enema, abdominal ultrasounds, abdominal and pelvic CT scans
- Colonoscopy and maybe even
- Chest X-Ray and echocardiogram - to check for congestive cardiac failure
Yes, you are right, I am beating around the bush and I'm getting straight to the point now.
Those who have thought of overeating, weight gain, PMS or pregnancy were probably right. Abdominal distention appears to be quite common and is mostly likely to be caused by eating too much, or eating fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables as well as legumes, well known of causing intestinal gas. Unconscious air swallowing or being lactose intolerant will get your stomach to bloat.
If you pay attention to what you eat, how and how much you eat, your symptoms will go away. If the problem persists, it's high time to think of other possibilities that include but are not limited to:
Indigestion – additional symptoms include being gaseous, abdominal bloating, pain that gets worse with eating
- Chronic constipation
- Muscle weakness
- Lactose intolerance - abdominal pain, irritability, floating feces, unintentional weight loss
- Irritable bowel syndrome – depression, lower abdominal pain, left upper quadrant abdominal pain, right lower quadrant pain,
- Hernia – abdominal lump, becoming more apparent when laughing, sneezing or coughing
- Appendicitis – constipation, diarrhea, change in bowel habit, pain, it's acute and considered medical emergency
- Gallstones - dark urine, abdominal distension, gaseous, feels hot to touch, fever, pain between shoulder blades and on the right side after eating
- Intestinal obstruction - abdominal pain, fecal incontinence, gas, lower abdominal pain
- Food allergies - skin reactions, such as swelling and itching, eczema and flushing, vomiting and/or diarrhea, coughing, wheezing or a runny nose, swelling of the lips, sore, red and itchy eyes
- Food intolerances - nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea
- Malabsorption - anemia, weight loss, decreased muscle mass, dry scaly skin, edema, hair that has lost its pigment, brittle and malformed (spooned) nails, chronic diarrhea, bone and joint pain, mental changes such as confusion and irritability
- Pancreatic disease
- Acute pancreatitis - dark urine, indigestion, abnormal heart rhythms, yellow eyes
- Peptic ulcer
- Ascites - rapid weight gain, abdominal discomfort and distention, shortness of breath, swollen ankles. Ascites are considered a symptom of severe (and often undetected) hypothyroidism.
- Diverticular disease - abdominal cramping, constipation, diarrhea and bloating.
- Ulcerative colitis - feeling like you haven't finished on the toilet, nausea, loss of appetite, weight loss, tiredness, inflammation (redness or pain) in the eyes, skin or joints.
- Liver conditions including hepatitis -abdominal pain, unintentional weight loss, itching, weakness
- Cirrhosis of the liver - abdominal pain, nausea, confusion, weight loss
Certain types of tumors or cancers:
- Gastrointestinal tumors
- Colon cancer - nausea, tiredness, pain, weight loss
- Ovarian cancer – bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly, urinary symptoms, such as urgent or frequent feelings of needing to go
- Ovarian cystadenoma - nausea, anorexia, weight loss, abdominal or back pain, vomiting
- Lymphoma - swelling of a lymph node, unintended weight loss, fatigue, night sweats, fevers, feeling itchy without an apparent cause
- Endometrial cancer - abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, pain, painful urination
- Liver cancer - abdominal pain, feels hot to touch, shoulder pain
- Fibroids - abdominal pain, frequent urination, sense of pelvic heaviness, painful menstruations
- Ovarian cysts- abdominal pain, indigestion, abdominal distension, gaseous, weight gain
- Peritonitis – vomiting, pain, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, abdominal swelling
- Sickle cell anemia- chest pain, excessive thirst, blood in urine, pain in penis
- Thalassemia - abdominal pain, pain, weakness, itching
- Mononucleosis - abdominal pain, chest pain, nausea, spleen enlarged
- Chlamydia – nausea, dark urine, tired, pain in urethra
- Hypertension - visual problems, weight gain, fast heart rate, breathing difficulty
- Celiac disease - sprue- constipation, bruises easily, abdominal cramp, tired
Read More: How to Cure Bloated Stomach
In a normal child, the stomach of a child protrudes more than in adults.
Some causes of abdominal distention of infants or children include:
- Premature delivery
- Colic and crying - bowel sounds loud, abdominal bloating, pain, abdominal swelling, abdominal pain
- Constipation - which may present as runny diarrhea
- Cystic fibrosis
- Celiac disease
- Hirschsprung's disease