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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.

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. Should you see a doctor now, or should you wait a few more days? In the meantime, you try to remember if you've been overeating, gained some weight, and wonder if you might be pregnant or going through PMS if you're female. Those more prone to worrying may even think they have a gastrointestinal disorder or even cancer. 

When it comes to abdominal swelling and a distended stomach, the scary thing is that it could be anything. 

Distended Stomach: What Should You Do If The Swelling Is Not Going Away?

One thing is true — you need to make an appointment with your doctor. However, before you arrange a meeting, think things through to help your doctor pinpoint the exact problem. When it comes to symptoms with numerous possible causes, misdiagnoses are more likely to occur. 
Describe the type of your abdominal swelling. Is it an abdominal mass, distention, fullness, ascites, a pulsatile abdominal swelling or a flank mass? Try to remember if you have been having any additional symptoms at all, such as [1] : 
  • Digestive symptoms
  • Pain
  • Intestinal symptoms
  • Stool symptoms; changes in color or consistency 
  • Weight-related symptoms
  • Muscular problems
Have you been:
  • Vomiting
  • Feeling nauseous
  • Fatigued
  • Having any bleeding episodes?
When any of these symptoms usually appear?
  • Does a particular action trigger or aggravate your symptoms?
  • Do symptoms appear at a particular time of the day?
  • Do the symptoms get worse on a stressful day?
When you answer these questions, you're ready to see your doctor. 
At the doctor's office, your doctor will ask you questions and collect an anamnesis. Don't you just love these words? Taking an anamnesis means asking questions about your and your family medical history. The doctor will ask you about your age and your problems, and this is where you describe everything you have previously thought through. 
According to what you had said and the results of the physical exam (looking, touching, kicking, poking, squeezing, etc.) performed by the doctor, they will then decide to do one of the following tests [2]:
  • A blood test to check for anemia, inflammation, electrolytes, pancreatic enzymes, etc.
  • A stool examination (following rectal examination) to check for blood
  • Radiographic examinations including an abdominal x-ray, esophagus x-rays, barium enema, abdominal ultrasounds, abdominal and pelvic CT scan
  • Endoscopy
  • Sigmoidoscopy
  • Colonoscopy
  • Chest X-Ray and echocardiogram - to check for congestive cardiac failure
  • Paracentesis
Those who have thought of overeating, weight gain, PMS or pregnancy were probably right. Abdominal distention is be quite common and can be caused by overeating, or eating fibrous foods such as fruits and vegetables as well as legumes, which are well known for causing intestinal gas. Unconscious air swallowing or being lactose intolerant will also cause a bloated stomach. 
Food allergies can cause skin reactions, such as swelling and itching, eczema and flushing, vomiting and/or diarrhea, coughing, wheezing or a runny nose, swelling of the lips or face, sore, red and itchy eyes, while food intolerance causes nausea, bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea. If a food allergy or intolerance is the cause of your distended stomach, pay attention to what you eat, how and how much you eat, and your symptoms will go away. 
If the problem persists, it's time to think of other possibilities that include, but are not limited to [3]:
  • 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.
  • A hernia – abdominal lump, becoming more apparent when laughing, sneezing or coughing.
  • Appendicitis – constipation, diarrhea, change in bowel habit, pain; Appendicitis is acute and considered a 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
  • 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) and 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 [4].
  • Fibroids - abdominal pain, frequent urination, sense of pelvic heaviness, painful menstruation.
  • 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 cramping, tiredness.

Read More: How to Cure Bloated Stomach

Causes Of Abdominal Distention In Children

In a healthy child, the stomach of a child protrudes more than in adults. 

Some causes of abdominal distention of infants or children include [5]:
  • Premature delivery
  • Colic and crying - bowel sounds loud, abdominal bloating, pain, abdominal swelling, abdominal pain
  • Starvation
  • Constipation - which may present as runny diarrhea
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Celiac disease
  • Hirschsprung's disease

Treating A Distended Stomach

Treatment of a distended stomach depends on the cause and the treatment is something your doctor will decide about. Before you visit your doctor you can try a few things at home. The first step is adjusting your diet: eat less meat and increase the number of vegetables and fibers in your diet. Try to increase body movement in a form of walks or a light jogging. 

A popular herb that you can include in your diet is ginger; it helps speed digestion, which is important because if your stomach empties faster, gases can move more quickly into your small intestine to relieve discomfort and bloating. [6]

There are also a number of other herbs and spices that relieve the effects of a bloated stomach, and these include peppermint, spearmint, chamomile, dill, fennel, basil, caraway, cumin and parsley, but be careful with herbs and spices if you're taking prescription drugs — a lot of them have pharmaceutical effects and could interact with the medications you're taking.