By Dr Joel Akande
While we are still discussing symptoms that are associated with our digestive system, it seems reasonable to touch on common observation and possible drag on our health—abdominal swelling.
Admittedly, abdominal swelling is often confused with or is called “stomach” swelling.
Either in men or women, abdominal swelling is very common in our society as indeed in every land on earth. In our society, abdominal swelling is often interpreted as a sign of living a good life or having a healthy life. Nothing can be further from the truth. Abdominal swelling can be a sign of illness. It can also be a contributor to worsening an illness or a cause of an illness.
What is abdominal swelling?
A normal appearance of abdomen is one that is flat or scaphoid: that is, not protruding outside of the rest of the body as of a pregnant woman.
Types of abdominal swelling:
Abdominal swelling can be acute (urgent and recent) or long standing (chronic) in nature.
What causes abdominal swelling?
Acute abdominal swelling may indeed be an extreme emergency that requires immediate intervention. To this category falls intestinal obstruction which can occur in anyone of any age. A sudden swelling of the tummy that is associated with (or without) vomiting, pain and constipation is an obstruction of the digestive system until proven otherwise. You should head straight to the doctor without any second wasted.
Other causes of acute abdominal swelling of lesser urgency is innocent constipation. Others are, indigestion, acid reflux, intolerance to milk and lactose. Food poisoning may however cause abdominal swelling with attendant urgency attached.
For long standing abdominal swelling, obesity ranks very high. As the reader may realise, obesity may arise from genetic causes, lack of physical activity, excess ingestion of alcohol and overeating —-all potential causes of diabetes mellitus (DM). On the other hand, DM may lead to excess fat deposit in abdomen. More serious causes of chronic or acute abdominal swelling is seen when the various organs contained in the abdominal space are diseased or failed. Examples are liver failure and kidney failure. Enlarged spleen especially in children and children suffering from sickle cell disease are likely to be responsible for abdominal swelling in such persons. These diseases mentioned may or may not be cancers. Cancers of the blood frequently cause the spleen to swell up. Stomach and pancreatic cancers, cancer of the colon are all likely causes of abdominal swelling. Extending a bit downward, diseases of urinary bladder in both genders could lead to swelling of the abdomen. Ovarian cysts and cancer, fibroid, endometrial cancer are all possible causes of swelling of abdomen. It goes without saying that the commonest causes of abdominal swelling in women of child-bearing age are pregnancy and fibroids.
Outside the abdomen and pelvis, heart failure and chest cancers migrating to the abdomen may lead to swellings of the “tummy”.
What can you do?
The best approach is to seek medical help to determine the cause of your abdominal swelling. It may be a mere fat deposit. In that case, a reduction in food consumption, increase in physical activities, and exercise of the abdomen may bring the abdomen to a flattened condition. If you are taking a lot of alcohol, you should consider stopping.
To find out the cause of your abdominal swelling, you may undergo a series of investigations including blood tests and imaging such as ultrasound, CTScan or MRI Scan as the case may be.
In all, the doctor will investigate you thoroughly to determine the cause. The advice and treatment that follows will fall in line with the results of the investigations and your history that you have told the doctor. Medical illness such as DM will require treatment. Acute abdominal swelling due to obstruction calls for emergency surgical operation. Cysts and cancers may be removed depending on the stage and type of cancers.
In all, what appears as mere abdominal swelling could indeed, be far from being innocent. Don’t take your health and symptoms for granted, seek medical help.