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Most people have been there at one time or another. Most individuals have experienced occasional episodes of bothersome belly bloating that might be linked to either benign causes, persistent conditions such as gastrointestinal distress, lactose intolerance, obesity, or other more serious diagnoses including cancer. If a person experiences persistent or prolonged belly bloating, the first step is determining whether the distended abdomen is linked to benign origins such as dietary related causes, which can be easily alleviated, or the distress is a sign of something more alarming. Here are some warning signs and symptoms that are associated with belly bloating and may require immediate medical attention and/or intervention.
1. Vaginal Bleeding and/or Bloody Stool–If someone is experiencing vaginal bleeding in between periods, bloody stool, or postmenopausal vaginal bleeding, these symptoms can all be associated with serious belly bloating. The good news is that the most common causes of these symptoms (e.g. fibroid tumors, hemorrhoids, endometrial atrophy, irregular menstrual cycle, etc.) are not life-threatening. However, any abnormal or irregular bleeding should always be monitored and/or evaluated because it can also be a warning sign of cancer, specifically colon or uterine cancer, as well as other serious medical conditions that might require prompt medical attention.
2. Diverticulitis–This condition, which is also known as colonic diverticulitis, is characterized by infected pouches that develop in the wall of the colon. This disorder causes a combination of bloating, abdominal pain, and fever, as well as tenderness accompanied by either constipation or diarrhea. Treatment for this condition usually involves bowel rest and a liquid diet for several days until symptoms subside. However, antibiotics may be required if a fever, excessive tenderness, and/or an elevated white blood cell count are among the patient’s symptoms. Moreover, acute tenderness might also require further testing (e.g. CAT scan or abdominal sonogram) to rule out an abscess. This medical complication could require surgical intervention or drainage. Once an acute episode of diverticulitis has subsided, a high-fiber diet and regular exercise routine can help keep a sufferer regular and avoid future complications.
3. Fever–Bloating associated with fever is often a warning sign or symptom resulting from an infection or inflammation. This is especially true if a person experiences a fever over a prolonged period of time or it is a recurring symptom. Moreover, if blood work also indicates an elevated white blood cell count, any possible infection needs to be treated and diagnosed ASAP, particularly if it stems from a pelvic, gastrointestinal, and/or urinary source.
4. Ascites–This is a condition that results from an abnormal buildup of fluid in the abdomen or pelvis, which often causes belly bloating, abdominal distention, a rapidly expanding waistline, and weight gain. This condition is often associated with liver disease. However, it can also be linked to cancer in approximately 10 percent of cases. Moreover, ascites can also mimic physical and emotional characteristics of being pregnant. The combination of belly bloating and jaundice, which is characterized by a yellow coloration to the skin and eyes, can be a sign of cancer that has metastasized to the liver. Yet, it can also occur with more benign forms of liver disease, such as hepatitis.
5. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID)–This condition occurs when the ovaries, uterine lining, or Fallopian tubes become infected. In many cases, PID results from sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as Gonorrhea or Chlamydia. However, it can also result from childbirth, miscarriage, abortion, and/or the insertion of an intrauterine device (IUD). This condition is often characterized by bloating accompanied by fever, tenderness, and pain in the pelvic area, along with the presence of vaginal discharge. Immediate medical attention is vital with the treatment of PID, which includes a thorough pelvic exam and antibiotics, especially since untreated PID can result in infertility as well as ectopic (tubal) pregnancies.
The good news is that most people with belly bloating are not suffering from an infection, inflammation, or other more serious medical conditions. Instead, in many cases, the warning signs and symptoms associated with belly bloating are related to dietary or other minor medical issues that can be easily remedied. However, if the bloating is severe and/or has plagued a patient for a prolonged period of time, it is always wise to seek prompt medical attention to resolve the matter.
Written and Edited by Leigh Haugh
Everyday Health–Seriously Bloated: Warning Signs You Shouldn’t Ignore
Active Beat–10 Nasty Culprits of Belly Bloat
U.S. News & World Report Health–A Taxonomy of Tummy Bloating: Your Symptoms Explained