Abdominal bloating occurs when the abdomen fills with air or gas. This may cause the area to appear larger. The abdomen may feel hard or tight to the touch. The condition can cause discomfort and pain.
Most of the time, abdominal bloating and pain occur due to:
This kind of bloating or pain is usually normal and will go away within two hours. In cases of the stomach flu, you may feel intense pain or bloating that comes and goes before each episode of vomiting or diarrhea. Stomach viruses usually go away with rest and home care.
Abdominal bloating and lower abdominal pain can also occur due to:
- Crohn’s disease, which causes intestinal inflammation
- viral or bacterial gastroenteritis, which causes inflammation of the stomach and bowel
- intestinal obstruction, in which the intestine is blocked and digested material cannot move through the digestive tract
- irritable bowel syndrome
- an ovarian cyst, which is a fluid-filled sac on a woman’s ovary
- a urinary tract infection (UTI)
Conditions such as acid reflux and indigestion can cause abdominal bloating and pain. In these cases, the pain is typically in the stomach’s upper portion, not the lower part.
If your doctor performs a physical exam and then suspects a medical condition is causing your abdominal bloating or pain, they’ll run various medical tests. The types of tests they order will depend on the physical exam findings and your medical history.
Some common tests for abdominal problems include the following:
- Complete blood count test to check for levels of different cells in your blood as a way to rule out an infection or detect blood loss.
- Urine test to check for UTIs and bladder disorders; for women, pregnancy test.
- Stool analysis to check for abnormalities in your stool that could indicate an infection or problem with your digestive system.
Your doctor may use one or more imaging technologies to check for structural abnormalities in your abdominal organs. These may include X-rays, CT and MRI scans, and an ultrasound, which involves applying a handheld device that emits sound waves to the skin’s surface to see inside the body.
Treatments for abdominal bloating and pain will address the underlying condition. Examples may include antibiotics for infections. If an intestinal obstruction is the cause, your doctor may prescribe medications to encourage intestinal movement. Surgery may be necessary in severe and rare instances.
Here are some suggestions for home care:
- Drink plenty of water or other clear fluids to help reduce abdominal pain and bloating.
- You should avoid pain medications such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and anti-inflammatory medications until you know your pain isn’t due to abdominal conditions such as a gastric ulcer or an intestinal obstruction.
- Avoid solid foods for a few hours in favor of softer, bland foods such as rice or applesauce.
- You can try taking over-the-counter gas-reducing medications, such as simethicone drops or digestive enzymes, to help relieve bloating.