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What Causes a Disetended Stomach in the Elderly

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What Causes a Disetended Stomach in the Elderly

As we age, our bodies undergo numerous changes, including changes in digestion and metabolism that can lead to various digestive issues. One such issue that many older adults experience is a distended stomach, which can cause discomfort and other complications. In this blog, we will explore the causes of a distended stomach in the elderly and the various treatments available to manage this condition.

Causes of Distended stomach in the elderly

Here are some common causes of this uncomfortable condition in the elderly.


As we get older, it’s common for things to slow down, including our digestive system. When we don’t get enough fiber, exercise, or water, we can back up, making it tough to take a number two. When this happens, the stool can get hard and trapped in our colon, leading to a distended stomach.

To make matters worse, all that trapped gas can cause even more bloating. You know how uncomfortable it can be if you’re an older person dealing with this tummy trouble. Luckily, there are many ways to get things moving again, like eating more fiber, drinking more water, and taking laxatives.

Poor absorption

As we age, our bodies can have a harder time digesting and absorbing the nutrients we need from food. This can be caused by all kinds of things, from illnesses like Crohn’s disease and celiac disease to enzyme deficiencies. When this happens, the food we eat can sit in our gut, undigested, leading to all kinds of problems, including a distended stomach.

Plus, when food hangs around too long, it can cause bloating and gas. All of this can make the elderly look like they’re expecting when they’re not! If you or someone you love is dealing with this issue, talk to a doctor to get to the bottom of what’s going on and figure out how to get back on track.

Gastrointestinal disorder

As we age, our digestive system gets lazy, and that can lead to a bunch of issues, like a bloated belly. Older adults can suffer from constipation, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and gastroparesis, which can result in a distended stomach. When the poop doesn’t flow, it builds up in the gut, and gas starts to accumulate, causing a swollen tummy. It’s a good thing that lifestyle changes like adding more fiber, exercise, and medication can help ease these issues.

Liver disorders

If an aged person has liver disease, they can develop ascites, a condition that causes fluid to accumulate in the belly. This can lead to a distended stomach, abdominal pain, nausea, and loss of appetite.

The common causes of liver disease include hepatitis, alcohol abuse, and fatty liver disease. People can treat liver disease with medication, lifestyle changes like cutting back on alcohol, and in severe cases, a liver transplant.

Pancreatic Insufficiency

The pancreas is an organ that produces enzymes that help our guts break down food. If the pancreas doesn’t make enough enzymes, it can result in a distended stomach, as well as diarrhea, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

Some causes of pancreatic insufficiency include chronic pancreatitis, cystic fibrosis, and pancreatic cancer. People can get help with medication, enzyme replacement therapy, and dietary changes to help them feel better.


Peritonitis is an inflammation in your belly, where your abdominal lining gets all red and inflamed. In the elderly, peritonitis can be caused by a stomach ulcer or a burst appendix, and it’s not a fun time. It can make your stomach distended and can hurt a lot.

Symptoms include a bloated stomach, belly pain, vomiting, and fever. You might feel like you’re carrying a bowling ball in your gut. The doctors might give you some strong antibiotics, or if things get really bad, they might have to perform surgery.

Ovarian cancer

In elderly ladies, distended stomach causes by ovarian cancer due to a build-up of fluid in your belly, and it’s not a good look. Other symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating, and feeling full all the time. It can be very painful. But, if you catch it early, you have a much better chance of dealing with cancer. Treatment might include surgery, chemo, or radiation. So, if you notice something’s not right down there, see the doctor.


Ascites is like a water balloon that refuses to pop. In the elderly, ascites can be caused by a bunch of things, like liver disease, heart failure, or cancer. It can make your stomach look like you’re pregnant. You’ll feel like you’re carrying a fishbowl in your gut. Other symptoms include belly pain, bloating, and shortness of breath. The doctor might give you some water pills to pee out the excess fluid, or they might have to stick a needle in your belly to drain it. In some cases, you might even need surgery. 


Adhesions are like the glue that holds your organs together, but sometimes they can get out of control and cause problems. In the elderly, adhesions can be caused by previous surgeries, infections, or inflammation. It can make your belly feel swollen. Other symptoms include belly pain, constipation, and nausea. Adhesions can be tricky to treat, but the doctor might recommend surgery to treat them.


Medications can be a lifesaver, but sometimes they can cause unwanted side effects. In the elderly, certain medications can cause distended stomach, like painkillers, anti-inflammatories, or antidepressants. It can make your belly feel like it’s going to burst! Other symptoms include constipation, nausea, and feeling full all the time.

If you notice that your stomach is getting bigger since you started taking a new medication, talk to your doctor. They can adjust your dosage or switch you to a different medication that won’t make you go through such an effect.


The treatment for a distended stomach mainly depends on treating the cause.

Dietary modifications

Making changes to the foods that are being eaten can help improve digestion and help relieve a distended stomach. For example, eating smaller meals more frequently throughout the day can help prevent the stomach from becoming too full, and avoiding foods that are known to produce gas, such as beans, cabbage, and onions can help reduce bloating. Additionally, eating foods that are rich in fiber, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, can help regulate digestion and prevent constipation.


Certain medications can help alleviate the symptoms of a distended stomach. Antacids, for example, can help reduce the amount of acid in the stomach and relieve heartburn and indigestion. Proton pump inhibitors and H2 blockers can also reduce the amount of acid produced by the stomach, which can help prevent bloating and other digestive issues. Additionally, certain medications called prokinetics can help improve the movement of food through the digestive tract, which can help prevent bloating and constipation.

Prokinetic medications

Prokinetic medications are a type of medication that help improve the contractions of the muscles in the digestive tract. This can help move food through the digestive system more efficiently and prevent bloating and other digestive issues. One example of a prokinetic medication is metoclopramide, which is often used to treat nausea, vomiting, and other digestive issues.

Behavioral changes

Certain changes in behavior can help prevent a distended stomach. For example, chewing food slowly and thoroughly can help prevent excess air from being swallowed, which can lead to bloating. Additionally, avoiding drinking liquids with meals can help prevent the stomach from becoming too full and prevent bloating.

Endoscopic or surgical interventions

For more serious cases of a distended stomach, more invasive treatments may be necessary. Endoscopic procedures, for example, can be used to remove blockages or reduce the size of the stomach or intestines. Surgery may also be an option in certain cases.


Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that can help regulate the gut microbiome and promote digestive health. Consuming probiotics can help reduce bloating, gas, and other digestive issues. Probiotics can be found in foods like yogurt, kefir, and sauerkraut or taken as supplements.

Physical activity

Regular exercise can help improve digestion and prevent constipation, which can contribute to a distended stomach. Going for a walk after meals, for example, can help stimulate digestion and promote bowel movements.

Reducing intake of gas-producing foods

Certain foods are known to produce gas in the digestive system, which can lead to bloating. Foods like beans, broccoli, and dairy products can be particularly problematic for some people. Avoiding these foods can help reduce bloating and other digestive issues.

Lifestyle changes

Certain lifestyle changes can help promote digestive health and prevent a distended stomach. For example, managing stress levels, getting enough sleep, and drinking plenty of water can all help improve digestion and prevent constipation.    

Herbal remedies

Herbs and supplements like peppermint oil or ginger can help relieve bloating and other digestive symptoms. Peppermint oil, for example, has anti-spasmodic properties that can help relax the muscles in the digestive tract and reduce bloating. Ginger, on the other hand, has anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract and promote digestive health.

Tajinder Singh

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