a woman tries to close her pants, but her belly has swollen. In her chest there are pipes with handles on the left and right, and one hose that leads to her belly

What Causes Abdominal Swelling? 

Last updated: April 2022

Some people with heart failure develop abdominal swelling. This is when your stomach gives the appearance of fullness. You may feel bloated or full. So, what is it about heart failure that causes abdominal swelling? Here is what to know.

There are other names for abdominal swelling you may hear. One of them is abdominal distension. Another is ascites. Ascites is essentially the medical term for when fluid collects within the tissues of your abdominal regions.1

What causes abdominal swelling?

There are many things that cause abdominal swelling. One of them is fluid retention in heart failure, and usually, this is caused by fluid retention due to right-sided heart failure.

The most common type of heart failure is left-sided heart failure. Usually, when referring to heart failure, this is the type of heart failure we are talking about. Still, as heart failure advances to become severe heart failure, right-sided heart failure may be diagnosed. So, it is possible for left-sided heart failure to cause right heart failure.2

Another cause of right-sided heart failure is lung diseases such as cystic fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis, and severe COPD. After years of pumping blood through diseased lungs, your right heart may poop out and this may lead to a diagnosis of right-sided heart failure.3

How does this happen?

The left side of your heart pumps blood through your arteries. Your arteries send oxygenated blood to all the tissues of your body. Veins are the vessels that return unoxygenated blood to your heart. All your veins lead unoxygenated blood to a large vein called the superior vena cava. This large vein carries all your unoxygenated blood to your right heart.4

With right-sided heart failure, your right heart is a weaker pump. This means it is less able to pump this unoxygenated blood through your lungs. For this reason, some of this blood pools in your right heart, and it becomes backed up in your veins.2-3

Gravity at work

Gravity takes effect here too. With blood becoming backed up in your veins, your veins are said to be congested with extra fluid (blood). Gravity pulls this fluid down to the lower regions of your body. This explains why right heart failure leads to swelling (edema) of your feet and ankles.2-3

Abdominal swelling is a less common symptom of heart failure. Still, as noted above, there are some in this community who experience it.

What about you? Do you experience abdominal swelling? What are your experiences with it? Please share with us in the comments below.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Heart-Failure.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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