Abdominal Distension

Abdomen | Gastroenterology | Abdominal Distension (Symptom)


Abdominal distension is a symptom that involves increase abdominal pressure and volume. It can be described with belching, nausea and passing excessive gas. Abdominal bloating is a sensation of feeling uncomfortably full and the presence of abdominal rumbling sounds. Although pain is not present in abdominal distention, mild cramps may occur.


The major cause of abnormal bloating is excessive eating, and sleep swallowing or what is known as aerophagia. Other causes of bloating are irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes, functional dyspepsia or transient constipation. Heart failure and cirrhosis are also a common cause of distension. Women are more prone to bloating and often identify these symptoms during menstruation. It is believed that individuals who develop distension either have poor motility of their intestines or are hypersensitive to gut sensations. Individuals who are constipated also complain of bloating. For some individuals who are hypersensitive, any volume of air may be perceived as fullness and there may not be actual abdominal distension.

Abdominal distension (or distended abdomen) can be a sign of many other conditions, including: Coeliac disease, Tropical sprue, Eosinophilic gastroenteritis, Giardiasis, Whipple's disease, Ascites, Kidney stones, Lactose intolerance, obstructed bowel, Polycystic liver disease, Pregnancy, Premenstrual syndrome, Weight gain or ovarian cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment for abdominal distension generally involves a multifaceted plan that addresses the cause, minimizes the discomfort of abdominal distension and decreases the risk of developing serious complications of underlying causes. The diagnosis is based on the symptoms. If there is suspicion of an obstruction, X-rays, including CT scans or a barium enema, might help assess the severity of the blockage. Blood tests might be necessary to diagnose conditions such as hypothyroidism.


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