There are many different conditions that can cause abdominal distention, more commonly described as bloated stomach or belly bloat. These conditions have different causes and different treatments:
- Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the more common causes of a swollen tummy after eating. Many people who have this condition will swell up after eating a meal, only to have urgent diarrhea with painful cramps about an hour later. One easy home remedy that usually helps (although it's not a cure) is peppermint. Peppermint tea and peppermint candy (such as Altoids) will relieve cramps and bloating. Your doctor may have other treatments that work, but irritable bowel syndrome is a difficult disease.
- Pinworms are among the parasites that can cause abdominal swelling. If you have pinworms, you may have severe rectal itching at night as the mature worms exit your anus to find other hosts. Pinworms are not hard to treat but usually require purgation, best supervised by a doctor.
- Hookworms also can cause swollen tummies, but their other symptoms are even more noticeable. You contract hookworms by walking barefoot in soil in which there is fecal contamination, or by handling feces of infected humans or pets. There will be skin irritation where the worm enters your body. Or you may have symptoms similar to a bad cold or flu if you eat hookworm eggs or larvae that get into your lungs. Then there are nausea, vague abdominal pain, flatulence, and loss of appetite. There are effective anti-parasitic medications for hookworm, but they don't change your immune system, and it is easy to get infected all over again in just a few days.
- Helicobacter pylori infection can cause peptic ulcers along with abdominal distention. It's a water-born bacterium that you are unusually likely to contract in Nicaragua or other parts of Central America.
- Intestinal blockages stop food in the small intestine and colon and won't let more food or water through. They cause burps, acid reflux, vomiting, and an increase in waistline immediately after a meal. An intestinal blockage can become a medical emergency. While the blockage is still partial, it causes diarrhea. When it becomes total, it causes constipation.
- Gallstones can cause belly bloat by blocking the flow of bile, which the small intestine needs to emulsify fats so they go down the digestive tract rather than accumulating in your gut. You may also feel intense pain in your right flank that can radiate up or down after eating, and you may develop itchy skin. Gallstones are most often treated by surgical removal of the gallbladder.
- Giardiasis is another parasitic infection that can cause abdominal swelling. One of its symptoms is the production of intensely smelly "purple burps." They are something like flatulence in reverse. You are most likely to contract giardiasis from contaminated water in streams or lakes. It's hard to get over the infection without a medication called Flagyl.
- Hernia is the protrusion of an internal organ through a hole in muscle or the lining of the abdominal cavity. Some hernias will be more obvious after you eat. Any hernia can require immediate medical treatment if it becomes strangulated and circulation is cut off to the portion of the organ out of its usual place.
- Food allergies, most commonly to eggs, wheat, beef, tomatoes, citrus, and/or chocolate, cause irritation that can cause the lining of the stomach or small intestine to puff out. You can try eliminating one or all of these foods for a day or two to see if your symptoms improve. Then eat some of that food again and see if your symptoms come back. Food allergies are not the same as celiac disease, which typically causes severe diarrhea and painful inflammation of the intestines. They aren't the same as wheat sensitivity either, because wheat sensitivity causes longer-lasting inflammation In belly fat.
- Premenstrual syndrome often causes bloating, among other symptoms.
- Food poisoning can cause abdominal expansion but almost always with severe diarrhea.
There is more than one cause of abdominal distention. Knowing the cause is essential to choosing the right treatment.
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