Swollen belly: causes and remedies

The stomach is a body part that swells at each weight variation, which especially concerns women. Sometimes it can happen due to too much food, while in other cases it requires a visit to the gastroenterologist. Additional research suggests that in women the main problem is slow intestinal transit rather than hormonal fluctuations related to the menstrual cycle.

In most cases, the main cause is an incorrect diet (little water, junk food, meals eaten too fast). Fortunately, there are remedies such as probiotics found in fresh vegetables, fruit and fibrous foods. However, it is recommended to visit a gastroenterologist to rule out the presence of a more serious problem such as irritable bowel syndrome or inflammatory bowel disease.

In this article, Professor Silvio Danese, Head of the Inflammatory Bowel Diseases Center at Humanitas Research Hospital, and Dr. Stefania Setti, nutritionist at Humanitas Gavazzeni Hospital in Bergamo explain the causes and remedies for a swollen stomach.

Dr. Setti, can an inappropriate diet affect swollen belly?

“Yes of course. If the stomach is taut or swollen to the touch, rather than soft, the foods that you consume and the way you eat may be the responsible factors. Especially, processed and salty foods, fizzy drinks or an excess of rice, potatoes or pasta could create problems. First, some foods cause fluid retention (such as those rich in sodium or starch like pasta). Many people also complain of abdominal bloating after meals because of the excess gas produced by the process of digestion of certain foods (for example, legumes or fruit consumed after a meal). Above all, though, one cannot have a flat stomach if he or she is suffering from constipation. Thus, intestinal functions must be normal.

Moreover, it is useful to follow a varied and balanced diet, which does not exclude any food, particularly fruit and vegetables should be part of the everyday meal. In addition to food, even moderate physical activity is helpful to achieve this. It is important to chew slowly and drink plenty of water, preferably non-carbonated, which ease bowel regularity.”

Professor Danese, is swollen belly usually a sign of intestinal diseases?

“Many people refer to swollen belly as the first symptom of irritable bowel syndrome. The same is true in cases of gastritis and colitis. It is inflammatory diseases whose underlying cause is not yet well defined, but they cause difficulty in digestion, heartburn and constipation alternating with diarrhea and bloating. The basis is often emotional and/or psychological. People affected by the problem, in fact, are generally anxious, manifest tension or aggression and depression. Treatment is aimed at improving symptoms from psychological conditions. The advice is to reduce the emotional stress and lead a more relaxed life. Even the diet is important; however, trigger foods may vary from person to person. The patient himself, with the help of a doctor, must understand what foods to avoid, even though in most cases foods recommended to avoid are milk, cheese, high-fat foods, sausages, and coffee. Moreover, remember that antispasmodics or antidiarrheal drugs should be used only upon medical advice from a healthcare professional.”

Can a chronic inflammatory bowel syndrome cause a bulging belly?

“It is important to visit a gastroenterologist, who will gather the patient history, perform a physical examination and laboratory tests. Moreover, the presence of alarming symptoms such as weight loss, presence of blood in the feces or family history of bowel cancer or Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis could lead to being advised to perform a colonoscopy. Finally, it should be taken into account that other common diseases such as lactose intolerance, celiac disease or bacterial contamination syndrome of the small intestine may be the underlying problem of a swollen belly.”

Dr. Setti, can probiotics be helpful?

“The probiotics are helpful because they reduce the production of intestinal gas, restore the balance of bacterial flora, promote cell division of colon walls, reduce the bacterial fermentation of food and reduce gastrointestinal hypermotility. All of which, as a result, contributes to alleviating the annoying symptoms of a swollen belly, irritable bowel syndrome and other inflammatory diseases.

In general, probiotics are found in foods. They are, in fact, ‘good’ bacteria that restore a proper balance of intestinal flora by counteracting the action of germs and bacteria that attack the lining. They are available in yoghurt, milk or cheese. In some cases, however, such as intestinal dysbiosis (irritable bowel syndrome, gastritis, etc.), the probiotics in food are not enough. To be effective in restoring the balance of intestinal bacterial flora there must be an adequate concentration of ferments, about 10 mld per capsule/vial, and in this case it is necessary to resort to real supplements”.

To read more about probiotics and how they play a role in your digestive system click here.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.