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Digestive health centre

Abdominal bloating and swelling

A bloated feeling in the abdomen can be common, especially after eating a big meal or drinking too much.

In these cases, the bloating could usually have been avoided and will get better on its own, or with over-the-counter relief.

Feeling bloated or bloating often accompanies flatulence (wind) or indigestion. It is normal to feel temporarily bloated and to pass wind. However, some people feel bloated or have a sensation of fullness most of the time.

What is abdominal swelling or bloating?

The area between the chest and the groin is known as the abdomen - some people refer to it as their tummy or belly. The abdomen contains several important organs including the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder and pancreas. Abdominal swelling is a symptom that can occur when a disease, disorder or condition affects an organ or tissue within the abdomen, causing it to feel bloated or become enlarged.

Bloating refers to the feeling that the abdomen is larger - like you have swallowed a balloon. If you eat a much larger meal than normal, or there is a lot of gas in your intestines, you may have the sensation of feeling bloated, but your abdomen won't necessarily be physically larger in size.

Distension refers to the abdomen becoming physically larger than normal. Clothes may feel tighter than normal and the abdomen may have increased by a litre or more in capacity. A distended abdomen can be caused by excess gas, fluid or solid material, such as from fat, faeces (poo) or pregnancy.

Abdominal swelling may be limited to one small area of the abdomen or it may be more generalised, occurring throughout a larger area of the abdomen. The swelling may last only a short time or it can persist, depending on the underlying cause. It may cause only mild discomfort or there could be severe abdominal distension that could interfere with breathing or how an organ functions.

What causes bloating?

The most common causes of bloating include:

  • Certain foods and beverages - for example, gas-producing foods like beans, broccoli, cabbage, sprouts, cauliflower or fizzy drinks
  • Changes in your diet - for example, if you are travelling or on holiday
  • Swallowing air - for example, if you talk while eating
  • Constipation
  • Medication such as aspirin, antacids, corticosteroids, stool bulking agents, anti-diarrhoea medicines, opioid painkillers
  • Food supplements such as multivitamins and iron
  • Food intolerances such as lactose intolerance.

Medical conditions:

How is bloating treated?

Bloating can be managed usually by making changes to your lifestyle and with over-the-counter medication.

Here are some approaches to helping to avoid bloating:

  • Lifestyle changes such as adjusting your diet - your GP might ask you to keep a food diary to identify episodes of bloating and what you were doing at the time and to help identify which foods cause bloating. If you have to eliminate certain gas-producing foods from your diet then you should continue to eat a healthy diet that includes 5 portions of fruit and vegetables a day, drink plenty of fluids and exercise regularly.
  • Try to sit down to eat a meal.
  • Chew your food more slowly to reduce the amount of air ingested.
  • Don't gulp fizzy drinks.
  • Try not to talk and eat at the same time to avoid taking in more air.
  • Medication - over-the-counter medication is available for excessive wind, indigestion or constipation. Your GP will be able to recommend other medications if your symptoms do not improve.

WebMD Medical Reference

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