Protuberant Abdomen: Causes & Overview

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  • 0:03 What Is a Protuberant…
  • 0:39 Excess Fat in the Abdomen
  • 1:23 Poor Muscle Tone in…
  • 2:04 Accumulation of…
  • 3:16 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

A protuberant abdomen is the medical term for when the abdomen, or midsection, sticks out farther than usual. There are a number of conditions that may cause this, and we'll discuss some of them in this lesson.

What Is a Protuberant Abdomen?

As you age, you may notice your midsection getting a little rounder; the abdomen is a common place for the body to store fat. When the abdomen sticks out farther than normal, the medical term is protuberant abdomen (also sometimes called distension). Generally speaking, a protuberant abdomen is caused by one of three things: excess fat stored in the midsection, a loss of muscle tone, or a buildup of substances inside the abdominal region (such as in the intestines). We'll break each of these down a little more to understand what could potentially be happening.

Excess Fat in the Abdomen

Unfortunately, it's easy for subcutaneous fat to accumulate in the abdomen. Subcutaneous fat is that which is found right beneath the skin. If you've ever had a physical examination where the doctor uses calipers to pinch different parts of your body to assess fat percentage, this process measures subcutaneous fat.

When excess fat causes a protuberant abdomen, it can lead to long-term health problems. Diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and heart disease are just a few of the chronic conditions that can develop from too much abdominal fat. Exercise and a balanced diet can help control the amount of abdominal fat that develops so you don't develop a protuberant abdomen.

Poor Muscle Tone in the Abdomen

We all dream of having those six-pack abs, but no one really dreams of doing the sit-ups and crunches that are a prerequisite. Poor muscle tone may develop due to a lack of exercise, but it can also be caused by medical disorders.

Hypotonia is one muscle condition that can be present at birth or can develop later in life. With hypotonia, the muscles are incapable of pulling tight enough to hold the abdomen in place. As a result, a protuberant abdomen may develop.

Irregular diaphragm function can also cause a protuberant abdomen. The diaphragm is a muscle used during respiration, and when it malfunctions, it can sag into the abdomen, causing distension.

Accumulation of Substances in Abdomen

This final category is a little broader; there are a number of medical conditions that may cause swelling in the abdomen which then displays as a protuberant abdomen.

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