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Abdomen is as essential part of digestive system that contains most of the digestive organs. Any abnormality in digestive system can cause the abdomen to swell. This article highlights the conditions that are reposible for causing abdominal swelling.

What is Abdominal Swelling?

The abdomen is the area between chest and groin. It contains many different organs such as the stomach, intestines, gallbladder, etc. Abdominal swelling refers to any unusual enlargement, bloating, or distension in this area.


Abdominal swelling occurs as a common symptom with many diseases, some mild and some rather severe. Depending on the source, abdominal swelling may occur momentarily or for longer episodes. It may be a generalized swelling that occurs throughout the abdomen, or it may be restricted to a particular area usually referred to as an ‘abdominal mass’. 

Prolonged and severe abdominal bloating may interfere with the normal processes of the body such as breathing and digestion. It may lead to the development of certain life-threatening symptoms as well, such as jaundice and dizziness. 

Causes of Abdominal Swelling

Abdominal swelling can be physiological as well as pathological.

Physiological abdominal swelling is caused by normal phenomena like over eating, drinking too much liquid, etc. Whereas pathological abdominal swelling is a symptom of an abnormal condition like ascites, inflammatory bowel syndrome, etc.

Abdominal swelling may occur due to various reasons, ranging from infections to overeating and even missed menses. Listed below are the conditions that are known to cause abdominal swelling as a symptom.

Most Common Causes

Overeating and gas are two most common causes of abdominal swelling. Swallowing air, overeating, and eating high-fibre foods very often may lead to the accumulation of gas in digestive system which results in bulging of abdomen outward. This causes abdominal swelling.

Common Medical Causes

Causes that might indicate a medical condition include cancer, infections, inflammation, trauma or abdominal obstruction. Broadly, medical causes that may cause abdominal swelling can be categorized as gastrointestinal, digestive, or related to other bodily systems (nervous, endocrine, urinary, and reproductive).    

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is a condition that is usually left undiagnosed. This is because IBS presents with vague symptoms such as diarrhea alternating constipation (few episodes of diarrhea followed by constipation), abdominal discomfort, decreased appetite, abdominal fullness, bloating, and gas. Abdominal swelling is also seen in most of the cases when gas exceeds its certain limit.

What causes IBS is still unclear. However, a genetic predisposition and problems with the immune system may be underlying causes. Doctors declare these symptoms as IBS when no other cause is found.

Although there is no permanent cure for IBS, medication may help relieve some of the distressing symptoms and prevent them from becoming worse or coming back.

Lactose Intolerance

This is a condition in which the body cannot digest or ‘tolerate’ lactose – a carbohydrate present in dairy products. This is due to the lack or inability of the enzyme lactase to breakdown lactose in the body.

Typical presentation of lactose intolerance is a patient that complains of diarrhea usually after ingesting milk or any other dairy product.

Besides that, abdominal bloating and swelling in abdominal due accumulation of gas also occur two hours after eating dairy products. 

People suffering from this condition are advised not to eat dairy products. They may eat alternatives or fermented forms, such as yogurt instead of milk.


Ascites is a condition in which fluid accumulates in the abdomen. As the amount of fluid increases, abdominal swelling becomes prominent and discomfort becomes evident. The condition may become life-threatening in severe cases.

Causes of ascites mainly include liver problems such as cirrhosis, in which liver scarring takes place. Other causes are heart failure, kidney problems, appendicitis, or cancer. Symptoms include vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite and heartburn. The abdominal swelling in this condition is most prominent.  

Treatment for ascites involves diuretics, which relieve the pressure around the abdomen and liver. Paracentesis is another option, in which a needle is inserted into the abdominal cavity to drain the accumulated fluid. Surgery may be required if no other option is suitable.


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