The human stomach can stretch significantly to accommodate the food and fluid then may enter it. As its stretches, receptors in the stomach wall sends signals back to the brain. Individual stomach sizes vary but this feedback mechanism prevents us from overeating and overstretching the stomach wall.
Our tolerance to that stretched stomach feeling varies from person to person. Some people may be able to eat more and have their stomach stretch to a greater extent than others before feeling “full” and uncomfortable. Others may find that even a small quantity of food can cause a “full” and stretched feeling in the stomach.
Can the stomach change size?
The size of the stomach may vary throughout the day. It stretches and distends after meals. Gradually this food is digested (partially) and then emptied from the stomach into the duodenum of the small intestine. This causes the stomach to “shrink”. Overeating can therefore cause the stomach to be stretched to an extent where it can be uncomfortable, even painful and sometimes there can be a risk of a rupture if the stomach wall is weakened.
Long periods of hunger or fasting can cause the stomach to return to its normal size when empty. However, this does not actually shrink the stomach as is often thought. The more likely cause of a shrunken stomach is due to diseases which can cause a feeling that the stomach has become smaller, growths within the stomach that reduces its capacity or compression from outside of the stomach that limits its ability to distend.
Read more on stomach bloating.
Signs and Symptoms
As mentioned, most of the time the stomach does not shrink unless there is surgery to remove a portion of the stomach. Instead people describe sensations like stomach bloating or a sensation of fullness in the stomach region as being a shrunken stomach. Therefore, a shrunken stomach in most of these cases are a symptom just as pain is a symptom. This small stomach feeling may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as:
- Abdominal pain or tenderness, especially in the upper left region of the abdomen where the stomach is located.
- Nausea and possibly vomiting.
- Excessive belching.
- Abdominal distension.
- Change in appetite.
Most of the time the symptoms are triggered or exacerbated by eating. There may even be fullness after just a few bites of food. When there are symptoms like bloody vomit, blood in the stool or unintentional weight loss with persisting stomach-related symptoms, then immediate medical attention is necessary. These symptoms could possibly be due to serious and life-threatening conditions like stomach cancer.
Read more on stomach pressure.
Causes of a Shrunken Stomach
Apart from obvious causes like overeating, carbonated beverage, the various causes of excessive stomach gas and surgery to reduce stomach size, there are conditions where the stomach may appear to be shrunken. There are several stomach conditions where the following may occur:
- the capacity of the stomach may be reduced.
- the stomach’s ability to distend is restricted.
- the stomach wall is irritated thereby giving rise to a fullness sensation.
However, many people also consider an alteration in appetite as being a stomach problem It is often said that the stomach has shrunk or become small. A loss of appetite can occur for various reasons and even exist without there being any stomach problem. There is some age-related reduction in appetite that is normal in the elderly. However, seniors need to be particularly cautious as certain conditions are more likely to occur with advancing age.
One of the common stomach conditions where there may be a fullness or bloated feeling is gastritis. This is where the stomach wall is inflamed. There are many possible causes including excessive alcohol consumption and autoimmune factors but the most common causes of gastritis are the overuse of NSAIDs like aspirin and H.pylori infection. There may also be changes in appetite as well as the typical gnawing or burning stomach pain.
Stomach ulcers are open sores in the stomach wall. It may be associated with gastritis. These sores are more likely to occur with H.pylori infection of the stomach wall. However, a host of other factors can aggaravate it, such as alcohol consumption, spicy foods and NSAID use. The symptoms are similar to gastritis although the pain tends to be more severe. A rupture is possible as the stomach wall is weakened at the site of the ulcer.
A hiatal hernia is where a portion of the stomach becomes trapped in the chest cavity. It occurs when the esophageal opening is too large and allows the upper part of the stomach to slide or roll through it. This can “pinch” a portion of the stomach and place pressure on it. The symptoms are vague and similar to other stomach conditions. It tends to worsen with eating.
Gastric polyps are growths that protrude from the stomach wall into the stomach cavity. Most stomach polyps are benign, meaning that it is not cancerous. Usually stomach polyps do not cause any significant symptoms. Larger polyps are more prone to ulceration. There may also be nausea and abdominal pain. In rare cases, a large polyps can obstruct a portion of the stomach where it empties into the small intestine.
Stomach cancer is a malignant growth that destroys the stomach tissue and can spread beyond the stomach. It can cause a host of symptoms, including a loss of appetite, bloated feeling and pain that may cause an aversion to eating. Although stomach cancer is not among the most common cancers seen in the United States today, it is nevertheless a serious and potentially life-threatening condition.
Gastroparesis is where the stomach muscles are weakened and sometimes even paralysed. The muscles in the stomach wall are responsible for crushing, mixing and pushing out food from the stomach into the small intestine. If impaired, food may not empty out as fast as it normally would and can accumulate in the stomach. Diabetes, certain medication, some types of viral infections, surgery and certain neurological conitions may cause gastroparesis.
Enlarged Liver or Spleen
The abdominal cavity is tightly packed with various organs. When any of these organs are enlarged, it will press against surrounding organs. The same phenomenon can occur with the stomach. If the liver or spleen in particular are enlarged then there is less space for the stomach to stretch. Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver) or splenomegaly (enlarged spleen) can occur for various reasons.