Abdominal Swelling

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What is abdominal swelling?

Abdominal swelling is any bloating, distention or enlargement of the area between the chest and the groin. Commonly referred to as the “belly,” the abdomen consists of many organs, including the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas and numerous blood vessels.

Abdominal swelling is a common symptom of a wide variety of mild to serious diseases, disorders and conditions, such as gallstones, overeating, food poisoning, pancreatitis, liver disease, and pregnancy. Abdominal swelling may be generalized, occurring throughout the abdomen, or it may be present in a small area of the belly, called an abdominal mass.

Depending on the cause, abdominal swelling can last briefly, such as after a single episode of overeating. Abdominal swelling can also occur over a longer period of time, such as when it is due to obesity or ascites.

Abdominal swelling can range in severity from mild bloating to extreme abdominal distention that can interfere with breathing and other bodily processes and functions. Abdominal swelling that is associated with dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, or yellowing of the skin (jaundice), can be a symptom of a serious, potentially life-threatening condition. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these symptoms.

What other symptoms might occur with abdominal swelling?

Abdominal swelling may be accompanied by other symptoms, depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Digestive symptoms that may occur along with abdominal swelling

Abdominal swelling may occur with other symptoms affecting the digestive tract including:

Other symptoms that may occur along with abdominal swelling

Abdominal swelling may occur with other symptoms related to other body systems including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, abdominal swelling may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have swelling along with other serious symptoms including:

  • Bloody or black stools

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing (tachypnea)

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting, change in level of consciousness, or lethargy

  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)

  • Pulsating mass in abdomen

  • Rapid pulse

  • Severe abdominal pain

  • Vomiting blood or black material (resembling coffee grounds)

  • Weakness

  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)

What causes abdominal swelling?

Abdominal swelling has many possible underlying causes. General conditions that can cause abdominal swelling include infection, malignancy, inflammation, trauma, obstruction and other abnormal processes.

Abdominal swelling can result from gastrointestinal or digestive conditions or from conditions of other body systems, such as the endocrine, nervous, reproductive and urinary systems.

Gastrointestinal causes of abdominal swelling

Abdominal swelling may accompany other conditions affecting the digestive tract including:

Other causes of abdominal swelling

Abdominal swelling can also be caused by problems in body systems other than the digestive tract including:

Life-threatening causes of abdominal swelling

In some cases, abdominal swelling may accompany a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:

What are the potential complications of abdominal swelling?

In some cases, abdominal swelling can be associated with serious and life-threatening complications, especially if the swelling is severe or the underlying disease or condition is untreated or poorly managed. Complications of these conditions include:

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 5
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Abdomen - Swollen. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003122.htm
  2. Abdominal Bloating. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003123.htm