Bloated Abdomen or Distended Tummy ~ Medical Terminology

Bloated abdomen is a term that refers to more than one entity – one one hand it is commonly used to indicate visible abdominal distension that typically occurs with gas accumulation but on the other handed it also describes a sensation of being “full” and uncomfortable typically after eating. Similar terms include bloated stomach, indigestion and abdominal bloating.

Sometimes it can be associated with fluid accumulation in the abdominal cavity, a condition known as ascites, but in this case it is commonly referred to as abdominal swelling.

Bloated Abdomen – Possible Causes

Ideally a person should differentiate between distension (enlargement) and a sensation (bloated). The most common causes of abdominal distension includes :

  • Fat – abdominal fat
  • Feces – constipation
  • Fluid – ascites
  • Fetus – pregnancy
  • Flatus – gas in the bowels

Bloated Abdomen Meaning and Serious Cases

The seriousness of a bloated abdomen depends on whether it occurs suddenly or slowly, causes severe discomfort or pain, associated with other non-abdominal symptoms and the events that may have preceded its onset.

  • A bloated abdomen that arisesĀ  immediately after eating food is rarely serious although at times it can be very uncomfortable or even border on painful. This occurrence is common and almost always due to intestinal gas. It seems to occur more frequently in patients with conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) for no known reason.
  • A bloated abdomen that occurs gradually, over hours or days, and is painful can be due to a much more serious underlying cause involving either the abdominal organs or peritoneal space. Symptoms like fever, changes in appetite, nausea, vomiting, changes in bowel movement need to be noted and taken into consideration for the final diagnosis.
  • A bloated abdomen that occurs over weeks or months is rarely serious. This can be due to pregnancy or even weight gain.

An ultrasound further supported with an X-ray can often help to isolate possible causes. Further investigations such as a CT scan or MRI will provide better clarity and may need to be followed up with an upper GI endoscopy or colonoscopy in gastrointestinal conditions or even with a laporotomy for abdominal causes of unknown origin.

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About Jan Modric (249 Articles)
Health writer
  • loveladyrick

    I’m 49 and in generally poor health with severe diabetes, high blood pressure, tachycardia, high triglycerides, plus multiple other issues. My kidney function is also down to 50%. I’ve always been large and had a bit of belly fat down near my navel. However, I look like a pregnant woman with my abdomen extended and very rigid. I’ve had swollen lymph nodes in my neck for at least the past three months according to the PA I see at the clinic (no insurance). He doesn’t act like it’s a big deal. I haven’t been ill, had a sore throat, no dental problems or any of the usual causes. The nodes are not red or tender either. I have had a lot of chest pain, bone/arthritis pain and have complained about extreme fatigue for well over a year. However, all my concerns have gone unanswered. Any ideas as to what might be causing all this? Thanks for any help.

  • Jan Modric

    loveladyrick,

    enlarged lymph nodes in the neck are never normal and can reflect a disorder in the neck, chest or abdomen, among other. A general blood test, icluding test for white and red blood cells, iron and vitamins is the minimum of what you should do. Chest pain and fatigue can be related. I strongly recommend you to have basic tests done, since early treatment may prevent a serious disease.

    One cause of distended, rigid abdomen is gas. This can be food related (avoiding large amounts of soluble fiber (like in oats, beans), sugar, fruits rich in fructose (like apples, pears, soda), infection related (Helicobacter pylori infection of the stomach — blood test exists, intestinal parasites — stool test).

  • bearbear

    I am a 49 year old female with tenderness on the left side under rib directly under my left breast. Tender to the touch. I also have a distended stomach. Doctor thought is could be my IBS. I have IBS and have had my meds increased for this but does not help. The pain runs around the side to my back under my shoulder blade on the left side and sometimes runs down my left arm. Now there is also some tenderness on the right side under my rib cage.

  • Jan Modric

    bearbear,

    do you feel tenderness in chest (over the rib cage) or in the abdomen)? Gas built in the left transverse part of the colon may irritate the diaphragm and cause pain around the left shoulder blade, shoulder or arm. Tenderness of the abdomen is probably from the distension itself. You can try a low-FODMAP diet for few days. This may decrease the production of gas by intestinal bacteria. Besides fructose and lactose, soluble fiber are a source of gas. Check for other causes of abdominal bloating, like H. pylori infection, SIBO…

    Do you feel any pain in the jaw or neck? Do you have any heart or neck disorders? Any recent infection?

  • lilblond

    I’m looking for some advice as well. I’m 35 years old and work out 5-6 days a week. I’m 5′ 1″ and weigh a healthy 120 pounds. I take synthroid daily for my thyroid (hypo), and have for the past 7 years. I always had a flat stomach, but over the past three years, my stomach has become distended. I look like I’m 6 months pregnant, and get asked often when I’m due. My stomach is hard…not flabby, and no amount of crunches seem to help. Any advice on what might be happening?? I would love to get this fixed before I actually get pregnant! Thanks.

  • Jan Modric

    lilblond,

    distended stomach may be from gas, fat, pregnancy, fluid (ascites, like in liver disease) or a big abdominal tumor (usually benign). If your weigh has increased in last 3 years, it is probably fat (or it can be a tumor…), but “hard” stomach is usually from gas. There are several dietary and non-dietary causes of bloating, including fructose malabsorption…Do you eat a lot of foods with soluble fiber (oats, legumes, oranges and other frzuits)? Have your bowel movements changed in any way?

  • lilblond

    Hi Jan –

    Thanks for you response. I do eat a lot of fruit and some nuts. My bowel movements have not changed in the past few years, but they are always loose. In general, I don’t feel like I have gas, but it is definitely possible. Any suggestions of remedies would be much appreciated.

  • Jan Modric

    lilblond,

    first you should find out for sure if your abdomen is distended from gas or not. If it is fluid or fat, you would gain weight, if it is gas, you would not gain any weight.

    Gas may be from various causes.
    If you have fructose malabsorption, a 4 day low-fructose diet trial would help. Here’s a chart to see which foods to avoid, and links to other articles that explain the disorder.
    If you have lactose intolerance, a 4 day lactose free diet would help.
    If you have celiac disease, symptoms would be reduced within a week on a gluten-free diet.
    To check for other gastrointestinal disorders you can visit a gastroenterologist.

    So, a remedy is an elimination diet – you can try one by one, and see if it helps. All details are in the linked articles.

  • lilblond

    Great. I will try each of these. Thanks!

  • alexmoon

    I’m 31, female, quite slim, but usually healthy. I’m a vegetarian – almost vegan (rarely have milk etc) but for the past month or so I have been experiencing symptoms in my lower right abdomen. It began as a dull ‘burning’ kind of pain, very localised, then the constant pain went during the second week, and now I’m just aware of occasional gas swelling and occasional burning pain which sometimes radiates around to my back. The swelling feels intestinal, goes almost from my hip to my groin down the ‘tube’, always on the right side, and usually goes down on massage.

    I have cut out wheat and caffeine as a precaution but am still waking up literally every night with abdominal discomfort and it seems no better. It can go away for hours on end, but every single night without fail it wakes me up. I have had headaches and generally feel very tired and anxious, but this may be due to the lack of sleep.

    My stool was very soft and some diarrhea initially (though I often get this around periods) but otherwise passing stool and urine, and periods have all been normal. I have had some sharp pains around both ovary areas. My mum passed away young from ovarian *and* bowel cancer so am obviously concerned.

    Will go to doctor on Monday, but wanted to share here in case people experience something similar.