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What Causes Abdominal Swelling?

By Carol Francois
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Discussion Comments
By anon1000325 — On Aug 23, 2018

I have this swelling. It mainly happens when I lie down and I breathe out and the swelling comes from the center of my stomach. It seems to be happening more just recently.

By anon330914 — On Apr 19, 2013

I have been suffering from stomach pain for the last year at regular intervals. I also have swelling of the stomach. I went to the doctor and he gave me tablets for gas.

It worked because after taking the tablets, I feel comfort. My problem is that for five or six days I don't feel pain but the next five or six days, I again feel a lot of pain and discomfort and swelling. What can be the reason for this?

By SteamLouis — On Apr 08, 2011

I'm bloated twice every month. Each time it lasts for about three days. I have always been bloated before my periods, but it seems that I am now also bloating during ovulation.

I also heard that bloating is an early sign of pregnancy and this is how some women can tell they are pregnant. But how is this so? Sometimes I even forget why I'm bloated when I haven't had my period yet. Why do pregnant women bloat and why does it happen so early on in the pregnancy?

Something else I read in a women's health magazine is that abdominal swelling or bloating is a sign of ovarian cancer. What I want to know is, how can women tell whether their swelling is normal or abnormal? We are all experiencing hormonal shifts due to periods or pregnancy. Is there a difference in the swelling which happens due to a tumor?

By candyquilt — On Apr 05, 2011

Bloating and abdominal swelling is also a side effect of some medicines. I have abdominal bloating because of my diabetes medication. This is the most common medication used for type 2 diabetes and doctors say it's one of the best. But its major side effect is digestion problems which results in bloating.

It's really an uncomfortable feeling and it gets worse when I eat certain foods like lentils and yogurt. But these foods are also highly recommended for diabetes patients. My doctor also doesn't want me to switch to any other medication. So I have no choice but to put up with the bloating.

Is anyone else experiencing such bloating with their medications? Have you found any remedies to help with this problem?

By fify — On Apr 03, 2011

I experienced a lot of abdominal swelling during my pregnancy. My doctor said that it was mild swelling which is completely normal. I followed some basic steps that usually made it better. If you can, raise your feet, drink plenty of water and take less salt with your food. Salt especially helps retain water and processed foods have too much of it.

If these don't help or if the swelling is much more severe, you should go to your doctor. Since the swelling is caused by hormonal changes, extreme swelling might be a sign of something more serious.

Thankfully, I only had mild swelling throughout my pregnancy and it got better when I followed the steps I mentioned.

By anon121608 — On Oct 25, 2010

I have a question. Day before yesterday I was at gym and while doing the workout for chest, 25 kg weight fell on my abdomen and now its hurting. Muscles I think. how should i get rid of this? breathing is proper, i can eat and digest properly but there is pain right under my ribs.

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