What Causes Distended Stomach & How is it Treated?

What is a Distended Stomach?

A distended stomach is a condition where there is swelling or distension of the abdomen and not actually of the stomach. This occurs when there is accumulation of certain substances, such as gas/air or fluid in the abdomen which results in outward expansion of the stomach and waist beyond its normal girth. This is the most common cause for distended stomach.

Distended Stomach is usually a symptom of some underlying medical condition or disease in the body and is not exactly an illness on its own. Patient’s with distended stomach or stomach distention experience a feeling of fullness, pressure in the abdomen, and may also have pain/cramping and nausea. In severe cases of distended stomach, there is pressure placed in the upward direction on the diaphragm and lungs, which results in shortness of breath. Burping or passing gas often relieves this pressure sensation.

There are various conditions that cause distended stomach, which include indigestion, lactose intolerance, malabsorption, problems in bowel function (IBS), or constipation. Consuming high-fiber foods can also cause intestinal gas and distended stomach. Other less common causes of distended stomach include ovarian cysts, some types of tumors can also give give an appearance of distended stomach. Ascites is a medical condition where the fluid accumulates in the abdominal cavity which can give the abdomen an appearance of distended stomach.

Patient can experience other symptoms also along with a distended stomach, such as nausea, belching, vomiting, fever, diarrhea or pain in the abdomen. Medications can be taken to help relieve the discomfort and stomach distension. They act by settling settling down the intestines and stomach.

What is a Distended Stomach?

What Causes a Distended Stomach?

Excessive eating and aerophagia (air swallowing) is one of the common causes of distended stomach. Other causes of distended stomach include inflammatory bowel diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, transient constipation, functional dyspepsia and diabetes.

In some cases, a person can also experience distended stomach due to milk or lactose intolerance, food poisoning, parasite infections, peptic ulcer disease, celiac disease and bowel obstruction. A person can also experience distended stomach or stomach distension after some types of abdominal surgery.

Cirrhosis and heart failure can also cause stomach distension. There is accumulation of fluid in the abdomen in both of these conditions which produces a feeling of fullness. Ovarian cancer can also cause distended stomach.

Poor intestinal motility can also cause distended stomach. Certain types of medications, such as anti-spasmodic and antidepressants can decrease the motility of the gut leading to a distended stomach.

Hyperacidity causes delayed emptying of the stomach, which can also cause distended stomach or stomach distension.

Swallowing air while eating also leads to a distended stomach. In hypersensitive individuals, even if the volume of air is less, then it can be felt as stomach fullness without any actual distension of the stomach.

Some of the medical conditions which can cause distended stomach includes:

What Are the Symptoms of Distended Stomach?

  • Patient suffering from distended stomach experiences a symptoms of feeling of fullness and discomfort.
  • One of the symptoms of distended stomach is the patient may have lot of belching.
  • Distended stomach may also be accompanied with symptoms of nausea and vomiting.
  • Patient with distended stomach can also have accompanying symptoms of diarrhea.
  • One of the symptoms of distended stomach includes shortness of breath.
  • Pain and cramping in the abdomen.
  • Fever may also be present.

How is Distended Stomach Treated?

Distended stomach or stomach distension is often not a serious condition. In many patients, lifestyle changes can alleviate the condition of distended stomach. If patient is having recurrent or persistent distended stomach or stomach distension, then it could be caused by infections, intestinal parasites or can be a symptom of other underlying medical conditions which should be treated accordingly. If the cause of distended stomach is other medical conditions, then treatment should be done for them to get rid of the problem of stomach distension.

Other than this, treatment for a distended stomach comprises of:

Dietary Changes to Treat Distended Stomach: Individuals who suffer from distended stomach should make some changes in their diet and avoid certain types of food. There are some types of foods which cause and worsen the problem of distended stomach. Components of foods which are not properly digested get excreted into the large intestine where they are decomposed by bacteria resulting in excessive gas. The volume and odor of the gas depends on the undigested component. Excessive intake of dietary fiber also causes stomach distension and gas. There are many vegetables which are responsible for causing a distended stomach, such as broccoli, beans and cabbage. These vegetables cause stomach distension, as they have high levels of indigestible sugars and fiber. Many individuals suffer from lactose intolerance and are not able to tolerate dairy products. Thus, such types of foods should be avoided if symptoms of a distended stomach develop.

Medications to Treat Distended Stomach: Recurrent stomach distension affects the quality of life of the patients and they may start taking medications or dietary supplements, which contain different enzymes, such as Beano, which work by breaking down complex carbohydrates, which in turn cuts down the substances in the gut which cause overgrowth of the bacteria and results in distended stomach. These enzymes will help in decreasing belching and gas, but need not necessarily reduce distended stomach.

Over the counter formulas, such as activated charcoal- simethicone also helps in alleviating a distended stomach. Probiotics also help in treating stomach distension by improving the gut flora, digestion and decreasing the production of the gas.

Some patients benefit from taking low dose antidepressants. These medicines work by changing the perception of fullness in the gut along with relieving apprehension and anxiety.

Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:April 6, 2018

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