Read below about abdominal swelling, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your abdominal swelling from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

This symptom can also be referred to as:
Belly button feels swollen

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Abdominal Swelling Symptoms

Abdominal swelling can be caused by a wide range of medical conditions. Some common gastrointestinal disorders like heartburn, constipation, or irritable bowel cause abdominal bloating typically associated with discomfort or pain [8]. Some more serious causes of abdominal swelling include intestinal blockage, fluid in the abdomen, or cancer. Obesity, pregnancy, and local skin infections may also cause abdominal swelling symptoms. In many cases, especially in cases of bloating, abdominal swelling can be treated at home with lifestyle change and over the counter remedies. However, the more serious causes of abdominal swelling require evaluation and treatment by a physician.

Symptoms that can be associated with abdominal swelling include:

Abdominal Swelling Causes Overview

Common gastrointestinal causes:

  • Heartburn: Heartburn, or dyspepsia, is abdominal pain or burning along with bloating or feeling full after meals. It is very common, and typically has no known underlying cause. Heartburn may be the cause of mild abdominal bloating or swelling.
  • Irritable Bowel: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a very common cause of abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea or constipation. Typically, patients either have either diarrhea or constipation, but can also have alternating diarrhea and constipation. IBS is known as a functional gastrointestinal disorder [1], which means there is no underlying structural problem to account for the symptoms.
  • Bacterial Overgrowth: There are millions of bacteria in a normal, health gastrointestinal system. However, some people get overgrowth of abnormal bacteria in place of good bacteria which can be a cause of abdominal bloating or swelling. Typically, bacterial overgrowth presents with abdominal pain or discomfort, bloating, gas, and diarrhea and diarrhea and is usually located in the small intestines [2] .
  • Constipation: Constipation is very common in the adult population and can be associated with a variety of medications [3], medical conditions or lifestyle factors. Constipation can present with abdominal pain or discomfort and abdominal swelling symptoms.

Abdominal swelling causes: concerning abdominal disorders:

  • Blockage in Intestine: There are a variety of medical conditions that can lead to blockage in the intestines, or also known as bowel instruction [4]. Some common causes include scar tissue from prior surgery, hernias, tumors or gallstone. Typically, patients will present with abrupt pain, nausea, vomiting and abdominal distension [5]. Patients will also report inability to pass stool or gas.
  • Fluid in Abdomen: There are a variety of medical conditions that can lead to fluid building up in the abdomen, or ascites, which leads to abdominal distension or swelling. Some of the most common causes include end stage liver disease (cirrhosis) [6], heart failure, or cancer. In many cases, abdominal distension from fluid in the abdomen is painless.
  • Cancer: Any large tumor in the abdomen can lead to abdominal distension or swelling, either as a direct result of the growing tumor or from inflammation or fluid surrounding it. This swelling is typically painless, but patients might have other symptoms like weight loss, fevers, or night sweats.

Other causes:

  • Skin Infection : If the swelling is limited to one section of the abdomen, it may be due to an infection in the skin. Typically, skin infections cause localized redness, swelling, and tenderness. Skin infections are typically caused by bacteria and treated with antibiotics.
  • Obesity : Increased abdominal girth [7] over time can be due to weight gain or obesity.
  • Pregnancy: Increasing abdominal girth can be due to pregnancy.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Abdominal Swelling

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced abdominal swelling. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)

    Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is very common problem that affects the large intestine. It can cause stomach pain, cramps, bloating, constipation, or diarrhea. Doctors think that IBS is caused by the brain sending wrong messages to the bowels, such as during times of high stress, causing physical changes.

    IBS is a chronic condition that may last for years, but it is not life-threatening and does not damage the bowels or lead to more serious illnesses.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea or vomiting, constipation, stool changes
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Lactose Intolerance

    Lactose intolerance is the inability to fully digest a sugar (lactose) in milk. This results in discomfort, gas, and maybe even stool changes shortly after ingesting a dairy product.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, abdominal pain (stomach ache), stomach bloating, constipation, diarrhea
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Possible Pregnancy

    In women of reproductive age, symptoms including missed period, weight gain, and nausea are indicative of pregnancy.

    9 months

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea or vomiting, stomach bloating, bloody vaginal discharge, vaginal bleeding
    Symptoms that always occur with possible pregnancy:
    missed period
    Symptoms that never occur with possible pregnancy:
    painful urination, severe abdominal pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  4. 4.Ovarian Cyst

    Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs in the ovarian tissue. It can be completely normal (it's estimated that 15% of post-menstrual women have these cysts with no issues), infectious, or cancerous. Birth control pills have no effect on benign ovarian cysts.

    Most benign cysts resolve spontaneously, but some may be persistent.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    stomach bloating, vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, lower abdominal pain, lower back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

    Abdominal Swelling Checker

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  6. 6.Cirrhosis

    Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver. Scar tissue forms because of injury or long-term disease. In the United States, alcoholism and Hepatitis C are the most common causes. Scar tissue cannot do what healthy liver tissue does - make protein, help fight infections, clean the blood, help digest food and store energy.

    Cirrhosis is a life-long liver condition, but is not expected to lower life expectancy if treated right away and if existing damage is not extensive.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Ovarian Cancer

    The ovaries are a female reproductive organ that produce eggs as well as hormones like estrogen. Ovarian neoplasm generally affects one of the two ovaries and causes symptoms like abdominal pain, bloating, irregular menstrual bleeding, and fatigue.

    The treatment & prognosis for ovarian neoplasm are vary and are dependent on the disease severity.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea, stomach bloating, loss of appetite, headache
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Liver Failure

    Acute liver failure occurs when the liver suddenly struggles to function properly or stop working completely.

    Treatment depends on the underlying cause of liver failure.

    Rarity:
    Ultra rare
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, nausea or vomiting, loss of appetite, fever, pain in the upper right abdomen
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  9. 9.Compartment Syndrome

    Compartment syndrome is a serious condition that involves increased pressure in a muscle compartment. It can lead to muscle and nerve damage and problems with blood flow.

    Prognosis is highly variable after surgery and depends on how rapidly you are treated.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    arm numbness, hand numbness, foot numbness, pain in one leg, thigh numbness
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  10. 10.Small Bowel Obstruction

    A small bowel obstruction is most often caused by adhesions after surgery, which make it difficult or impossible for food and fluid to pass through the bowel. This causes a blockage. Small bowel obstructions often cause nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and constipation.

    With appropriate treatment, symptoms resolve within days. In 18% of patients, an obstruction occurs again within 10 years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, stomach bloating, being severely ill, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps)
    Symptoms that always occur with small bowel obstruction:
    being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room

Abdominal Swelling Treatments and Relief

Many causes of abdominal swelling, especially if the swelling is simple bloating, can be managed at home. There are many over the counter and natural remedies for constipation. There are also over the counter medications to treat heartburn. If you are experience gastrointestinal symptoms that might be food-related, avoiding the offending foods and changing your diet may help. However, some causes of abdominal swelling should be evaluated by a physician. Imaging [9], prescription medication, and surgery are all possible treatments your physician may recommend depending on the cause of the abdominal swelling symptoms.

Seek emergency abdominal swelling treatment if:

  • If you experience very severe abdominal pain with nausea or vomiting.

Home abdominal swelling treatments include:

  • Lifestyle Changes: If you believe your constipation, irritable bowel, or heartburn is due to a specific type of food, try avoiding the food to help relieve symptoms. Some common offenders for heartburn include fatty foods or acidic foods like coffee, tomatoes, or citrus. Some common offenders for constipation include dairy, white rice or bread, and bananas [10].
  • Natural Constipation Remedies: There are many popular natural remedies for constipation including taking magnesium supplements [11], increasing your fiber intake, or increasing your intake of probiotic foods or supplements.
  • Over the counter medications : There are many over the counter medications that could treat constipation or heartburn if they are the cause of your abdominal swelling.
  • Enema : An enema is placed into the rectum to relieve constipation, with most enemas available over the counter.

Medical professional abdominal swelling treatments include:

  • Imaging : A doctor may order x-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans if they suspect intestinal blockage, fluid in the abdomen, or other possible structural causes of abdominal swelling.
  • Endoscopy (Esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD) or Colonoscopy: If your doctor suspects your abdominal swelling is related to a medical condition, they may recommend a type of imaging that requires using a camera in a scope to look at the inside of the gastrointestinal track, either through the mouth or through the rectum.
  • Medications : A doctor can prescribe various medications to treat heartburn, bacterial overgrowth, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, or infections that may be causing your abdominal swelling.
  • Surgery : It is unlikely, however if a blockage in the intestines is causing abdominal swelling, a doctor may recommend surgery to treat the problem. In this case, your doctor would discuss the risks and benefits of surgery as treatment for the condition.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Abdominal Swelling

  • Q.Have you been feeling more tired than usual, lethargic or fatigued despite sleeping a normal amount?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?
  • Q.Have you experienced any nausea?
  • Q.Have you lost your appetite recently?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our abdominal swelling symptom checker to find out more.

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Abdominal Swelling Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced abdominal swelling have also experienced:

    • 11% Stomach Bloating
    • 11% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 4% Nausea
  • People who have experienced abdominal swelling had symptoms persist for:

    • 32% Over a Month
    • 26% Less Than a Week
    • 20% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced abdominal swelling were most often matched with:

    • 60% Irritable Bowel Syndrome (Ibs)
    • 20% Lactose Intolerance
    • 20% Possible Pregnancy
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Functional GI Disorders. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Published November 9, 2016. IFFGD Link.
  2. Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. Wikipedia. Published September 6, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  3. What To Do When Medication Makes You Constipated. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published August 2017. Harvard Health Link.
  4. Bowel Obstruction. Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published October 2014. Harvard Health Link.
  5. Understanding Bloating and Distension. International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders. Published August 10, 2018. IFFGD Link.
  6. Cirrhosis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. NIH Link.
  7. Bloating. Wikipedia. Updated August, 2018. Wikipedia Link.
  8. Medical Imaging. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Published August 28, 2018. FDA Link.
  9. Bae SH. Diets for Constipation. Pediatric Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Nutrition. Published December, 2014.NCBI Link.
  10. Cox L. What Are Magnesium Supplements? Live Science. Published January 30, 2014. Live Science Link.