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Belly bulge: Causes and treatments

Weight gain is a simple explanation for a belly bulge, but there may be other causes. Some people carry a belly bulge for life while others notice growth over time.

In this article, we examine the different causes of belly bulge and their treatment or prevention. We also assess when to see a doctor.

Whether a person has a moderate weight or obesity, their body fat can distribute in several ways.

Subcutaneous fat makes up the majority of belly fat. This sits just below the skin, and is pinchable.

However, visceral fat is another type of belly fat that lies inside the abdominal cavity between the organs. Research suggests it has links with several diseases, including hypertension, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

While visceral body fat mechanisms are unknown, one study reports that genetics play a significant factor.

Weight gain is a serious problem in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that 42.4% of U.S. adults had overweight in 2017–2018.

A small amount of belly fat is relatively harmless. However, the larger the bulge, the higher the chance of serious illness.

Several factors can cause a belly bulge.

Getting older

A person’s body composition changes as they age, which can lead to a belly bulge.

For females, the decrease in the hormone estrogen during menopause triggers an accumulation of body fat. Fat tissues produce estrogen, so more is produced after menopause to create a balance.

Levels of the hormone progesterone also decrease, which can lead to water weight gain and bloating.

The accumulation of belly fat is a natural result of these hormonal and metabolic changes.

For males and females, muscle tissue, muscle mass, and the capacity to burn calories decrease with age.

Therefore, if a person keeps consuming the same number of calories every day, fat naturally increases.

Stress

In the modern world, day-to-day stress majorly impacts on people’s health and well-being. It not only affects the body psychologically — it also interferes with its ability to function normally.

The American Institute of Stress report that 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress.

Possible physical side effects include unwanted belly fat. This relates to the stress hormone cortisol, which is created in the body’s adrenal glands. Cortisol affects fat storage around the lower abdomen, while its receptors are found deep within visceral fat.

This hormone provides a physical boost during exercise. However, it also induces acute stress. While working in the brain, it helps control mood and motivation.

Cortisol also manages how the body uses carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. It regulates blood pressure and can increase blood sugar levels. If a person is stressed, cortisol increases their need to consume sweet or comforting foods and drinks.

Research shows that chronically stressed individuals are more vulnerable to a high-fat, high-sugar diet.

Bloating

Also called distension, bloating occurs for many reasons. These include:

The feeling of pressure or swelling in the stomach from bloating should not usually be a cause for concern.