Your stomach may look bigger than usual when it is swollen. A swollen belly may be a result of overeating, weight gain or a medical condition such as irritable bowel syndrome, lactose intolerance, liver and diseases or an abnormal build-up of fluid in the abdomen known as ascites. The swelling is usually because air, water or food is trapped in your belly.
Treatment is based on the cause of the abnormal swelling and it may resolve over days to months.
Any of the following may cause a swollen stomach:
- Eating foods that release a lot of gas can cause swelling. Foods like white bread, beans or cabbage are common examples.
- Some people cannot tolerate certain foods such as dairy (e.g. due to lactose intolerance) and bread or pasta (due to gluten intolerance).
- Irritable bowel syndrome is a common condition that affects the digestive system. It's usually a lifelong problem and can be very difficult to live with.
- Food poisoning can cause stomach swelling.
- Liver diseases can cause fluid to remain in your belly area, causing swelling. This condition is severe, and you should go to your healthcare provider immediately.
- In people with kidney disease, in addition to a swollen belly, swelling can also occur in their feet.
- Medicines such as stool softeners, antacids, or pain relievers (like codeine) can slow digestion. Slow digestion, in turn, increases gas in your belly and makes it bigger.
- Stomach cancers can also cause your belly to appear bigger than usual.
To prevent the symptom from getting worse, you must visit your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:
- Your belly is swollen for more than a day, or it keeps increasing in size for days.
- You feel pain when you touch your abdomen.
- You have blood in your stools.
- Other symptoms like swelling of your legs may signal a serious problem that requires urgent medical attention.
You can't prevent your stomach from swelling, but you can reduce the discomfort by following self-care tips. If you have any underlying condition, get treatment for it.
- Reduce the amount of food you eat. You can eat smaller portions at intervals rather than a large portion at once.
- Avoid drinking and eating fast or taking soft drinks while eating. Take your time while eating and drink water.
- Avoid lying down immediately after eating. You can walk around your house or compound to improve your digestion.
- Eat a balanced diet. Include foods rich in fibre in your meals (such as wholemeal bread). Eat more vegetables (such as fluted pumpkin leaves/ugwu, spinach/ efo tete, and carrots). Also, take fruits (watermelon and bananas) to improve your digestion.
- Your health care provider may prescribe medications that reduce gas in your stomach. An example is simethicone.
- In patients with kidney or liver disease, the healthcare provider may prescribe medicines that remove excess water. These patients will also get drugs to treat the disease.
- In some patients, the healthcare provider will do an operation to drain out accumulated water.
- In stomach cancer or other cancers, treatment will depend on what your healthcare provider finds.
The causes of a swollen stomach vary widely, ranging from too much gas to a serious medical condition. In many cases, you may feel a lot of discomfort and concern with a swollen belly. See your healthcare provider if the swollen belly lasts longer than a few hours or if you have been diagnosed with kidney or liver disease before.