Abdominal Distention

  • Distention may be mild or severe, depending on the amount of pressure.
  • Abdominal distention refers to increased abdominal girth—the result of increased intra-abdominal pressure forcing the abdominal wall outward.
    It may be localized or diffuse and may occur gradually or suddenly.
  • Abdominal distention may result from fat, flatus, a fetus (pregnancy or intra-abdominal mass [ectopic pregnancy]), or fluid.
Abdominal Distention

Abdominal Distention

  • Acute abdominal distention may signal life-threatening peritonitis or acute bowel obstruction.
  • Fluid and gas are normally present in the GI tract but not in the peritoneal cavity. However, if fluid and gas can’t pass freely through the GI tract, abdominal distention occurs. In the peritoneal cavity, distention may reflect acute bleeding, accumulation of ascitic fluid, or air from perforation of an abdominal organ.
  • Abdominal distention doesn’t always signal pathology. For example, in anxious patients or those with digestive distress, localized distention in the left upper quadrant can result from aerophagia—the unconscious swallowing of air.
  • Generalized distention can result from ingestion of fruits or vegetables with large quantities of unabsorbable carbohydrates, such as legumes, or from abnormal food fermentation by microbes. Don’t forget to rule out pregnancy in all females with abdominal distention.

History Abdominal distention ::

  • The patient may also feel unable to bend at his waist. Make sure to ask about abdominal pain, fever, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, altered bowel habits, and weight gain or loss
  • A patient with localized distention may report a sensation of pressure, fullness, or tenderness in the affected area

Medical Cause(s) Abdominal distention

  • Irritable bowel syndrome. Irritable bowel syndrome may produce intermittent, localized distention—the result of periodic intestinal spasms
  • Abdominal cancer. Generalized abdominal distention may occur when the cancer—most commonly ovarian, hepatic, or pancreatic—produces ascites (usually in a patient with a known tumor).
  • Abdominal trauma. When brisk internal bleeding accompanies trauma
  • Paralytic ileus, which produces generalized distention with a tympanic percussion note
  • Large-bowel obstruction. Dramatic abdominal distention is characteristic in this life-threatening disorder; in fact, loops of the large bowel may become visible on the abdomen
  • Small-bowel obstruction. Abdominal distention is characteristic in small-bowel obstruction, a life-threatening disorder, and is most pronounced during late obstruction, especially in the distal small bowel
  • (acute). Toxic megacolon is a life-threatening complication of infectious or ulcerative colitis.
Considerations :: Abdominal distention
  • Position the patient comfortably, using pillows for support. Place him on his left side to help flatus escape. Or, if he has ascites, elevate the head of the bed to ease his breathing.


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