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Abdominal swelling occurs when the area between the ribcage and the pelvis is swollen and hard. There are five main causes for this type of swelling: digestive disorder, food allergies, severe hunger, indigestion, and hormone fluctuations. The severity and duration of the swelling are good indicators of the root cause.
The abdomen holds all the digestive organs in the body. These organs are designed to expand and contract as needed and the abdominal wall muscles move outwards to accommodate this movement. Swelling in the abdomen is also commonly called bloating. These terms cover the same basic symptom, physical discomfort due to expanding digestive organs.
Digestive disorders and diseases cause difficulty with the breakdown and absorption of nutrients from food. As the body attempts to digest the food, the body can create too much or too little of the required enzymes. As a result, the digestive tract swells, causing pain and muscle cramping.
Food allergies are a common cause of abdominal swelling. In a food allergy reaction, the body is unable to absorb nutrients from certain foods. The body treats those foods as foreign objects and releases histamine as part of a defense response. The inability to digest the food properly creates abdominal symptoms and discomfort. Typical food allergies include chocolate, eggs, and nuts.
Severe, extended periods of hunger and malnutrition create abdominal swelling. This is a very common cause for abdominal swelling in the developing nations. As the stomach shrinks due to lack of food, the digestive organs swell as they attempt to absorb water and nutrients from internal sources. To correct this cause of swelling, regular food intake and clean water are necessary.
Indigestion is the most common cause of swelling in the developed nations. Over indulgence or eating of improperly, cooked foods will cause the abdomen to swell. The digestive organs expand as additional blood flow is directed to these organs. This additional flow allows the muscles to contract and move the food along. It also allows the body to provide more digestive enzymes as required.
Hormone fluctuations also cause swelling and bloating, and this situation is most commonly found just before a woman's menstrual cycle begins. As the monthly menses approaches, the body’s hormones change to hold more liquid. This causes bloating and swelling. During pregnancy, the same hormone effect can be found at different stages of the pregnancy. The purpose of these changes is to ensure that sufficient resources are held within the body to sustain the mother and baby over an extended period.