What Is the Difference between a Bloated Abdomen and Distention?

Bloated Abdomen vs Distention


Bloated AbdomenEvery year, around 17 million Americans suffer from gas and around 27 million Americans suffer from bloated abdomen. Both bloating and excessive gas in the stomach can be avoided and treated, and it is our aim to teach you how to help yourself. The first thing you should do to treat yourself is to be able to differentiate between distention  and bloated abdomen.

Distention: is actually having a bigger abdominal area than as in normal condition.
Bloating: is the sensation or feeling of having a bigger abdomen.

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You may feel bloated but do not have an actual bigger stomach. Like if you are full, you feel that you have a bloated abdomen, but not the actual bigger abdomen. For you to suffer from distention, your stomach size must increase by at least one quart. Distention, on the other hand, is something more serious. Distention can be caused by these three things:

  • Tissue
  • Fluid
  • Air

To be able to know the cause of your distention, first identify if you are suffering from intermittent or continuous distention. Continuous distention means that your abdomen has been swelling for some time already and with no signs of relief. This kind of distention can be caused by any of the following:

  • Obesity
  • Enlarged organs in the abdomen area
  • Presence of tumor in the abdomen
  • Fluids around the abdominal cavity

Intermittent distention come and go and is caused by disorders that prevent proper digestion, which results in gassy stomach or fluids in the digestive tract. Being able to differentiate bloating from distention is important to know because right diagnosis is necessary for proper treatment.

Causes of Distention

There are many reasons why one suffers from a bloated abdomen, excessive gas in the stomach and flatulence. Knowing the main cause is necessary to know the treatment that one needs. Irregular indigestion is one of the most common causes. During the digestion of food, chemicals react with food and break them down into various components.

With these smaller components, the body can now easily absorb the nutrients and have energy. Undigested food is considered as a waste and must be removed from your system. Waste can be a form of odorless gases and can be effortlessly contained in the intestinal cavity. When your digestive system is not functioning properly, sulfur-based gases are released and accumulate in the digestive pockets and cavities.

These gases make your intestinal canal bigger, causing you to feel the pain of a bloated abdomen. The release of these sulfur-based gases is caused by any of the following:

  • Dairy products
  • Whole grains such as bran and whole wheat
  • Certain vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, artichokes, brussel sprouts, and onions
  • Legumes
  • Foods that produce gases
  • Allergies to certain foods
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Spastic colon
  • Intolerance to certain foods and lactose
  • Sorbitol, fructose and other artificial sweeteners
  • Soft drinks and fruit juices

Bloating, flatulence and distention are not only caused by the release of sulfur-based gases. Here are some other causes of bloating, flatulence and distention:

  • Eating too much
  • Intestinal Parasities or presence of helminths and protozoans
  • Alvarez’ syndrome or neurotic bloating without gas
  • Peri-menopause & menopause for aging women
  • Partial bowel blockage
  • Constipation or dyschezia
  • Premenstrual stress syndrome and/or menstruation
  • Presence of ovarian cysts and polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Diverticulosis or diverticulitis (the condition of having pouches in the walls of the colon)


Bloating, gas and flatulence can be diagnosed through medical tests. Your physician will begin by asking you your medical history and by giving you a physical exam. Through these, your doctor can tell if you are suffering from continuous or intermittent symptoms. If your doctor finds out that you are suffering from intermittent distention which may probably be caused by increased sulfur-based gases, he or she will advise you to change your lifestyle.

On the other hand, if your doctor finds out that you have continuous symptoms, he or she will know that this is either caused by a digestive disease, presence of abdominal fluid, enlarged abdominal organs, tumors or obesity. For a more accurate diagnosis, your doctor may advise you to take the following tests:

  • Intestinal x-rays to know if your small intestine has any obstructions.
  • Abdominal x-rays to know the exact location of air pockets inside your digestive tract.
  • Ultrasound, CT scans, and MRI to check if there are any tumors, presence of abdominal fluids and enlarged abdominal organs.
  • Stool exam to check if there is an increase of fat in your stool. Increased fat may mean malabsorption and maldigestion which are caused by a digestive disease.
  • Hydrogen or methane breath test which measures the amount of methane or hydrogen. This is done after each meal and identifies if there is bacterial overgrowth.
  • Gastric-emptying tests which can tell if the stomach and the rest of the digestive tract can digest food well or not and can expel the undigested food efficiently.

Having gas symptoms may be embarrassing, but they do not indicate a serious digestive disorder. Visiting your doctor may help alleviate the symptoms, but it is not necessary to pay your doctor a visit. However, if you have abdominal pains, bleeding from the anus, constipation, diarrhea, experience vomiting and weight loss, then go visit your doctor right away.

Prevention and Cure

If you are suffering from less serious digestive disorders such as constipation and increased gas production, your main concern is probably how to relieve bloating. As remedies, you can try herbal cleansing, increase your intake of dietary fiber, changing your lifestyle and dieting. Also, as we grow older, it is an effective treatment to replenish our body’s natural digestive enzymes.

Good digestive enzymes must include multiple enzymes because different foods require different enzymes to digest and break them down. If you opt to have a lifestyle change, you can begin by keeping a food diary. In your diary, list down the foods you ate, the amount, the time and how you felt after eating.

Do this daily for a week, then evaluate the foods you ate. Take note of the foods or the combination of foods and the timing of eating wherein you felt uncomfortable after. After identifying which foods made you feel uncomfortable after eating them, you can change your lifestyle by avoiding foods that cause bloating. Here are more useful and common tips that can relieve the symptoms of flatulence and bloated abdomen:

  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. These foods are loaded with fiber and can ease constipation.
  • Avoid carbonated drinks. The carbon dioxide found in these drinks can be trapped in your digestive cavity and can cause bloating.
  • Drink lots of clear fluids. Drink fluids based on your weight; the amount of water you drink must be ½ of your body weight in ounces. Fluids such as water and fruit juices can help your digestive system flush out toxins, keep movement of foods through your digestive tract smoothly and keep your colons moist.
  • Read food labels and avoid foods with high sodium. Foods with high sodium can cause dehydration and limits body water absorption.
  • Eat fresh foods. Canned and packed foods are loaded with preservatives, making them harder to digest.
  •  Avoid foods that are either too hot or too cold. While eating these foods, you will have a tendency to take in more air.
  • Avoid too much dairy intake. If you are lactose intolerant, look for lactose-free foods. These kind of foods can easily be digested by your body.
  • Avoid caffeinated foods and drinks. Caffeine can overexcite and stimulate the digestive system.
  • Avoid fatty foods. Fats and oils cannot be easily digested by the body and may result to digestive spasms.
  • Be physically active. Being physically active, especially before breakfast, encourages regular bowel movement.
  • PMS supplements. Women should take PMS pills to avoid and lessen premenstrual bloating.
  • Increased intake of 25-30 grams of fiber per day. Increased fiber can alleviate several digestive disorders such as bloating and gas.
  • Colon cleanse. Do colon cleansing regularly to prevent any digestive disorders.

Follow these helpful tips gradually; you can start with only one or two tips at a time. Based on studies, having behavioral change or lifestyle change is more effective if it is done gradually and slowly. List down your progress. Reading your progress and success will encourage you to do more and to keep on going. Then soon you will notice that you are no longer suffering from a bloated abdomen.

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