It is normal to feel a fullness in the stomach after eating a hearty meal. This occurs due to a distension of the walls of the stomach caused by the food that enters this organ. The feeling of fullness in the stomach after a big meal is entirely normal, and is accompanied by a cessation of hunger and a feeling of satisfaction. However, cessation of hunger does not always require a full stomach.
Eating small amounts of certain foods can quickly bring in satiety, without filling up and stretching the stomach. People also use the term “full stomach” in those conditions where satiety and loss of hunger pangs is not accompanied by a big meal. Unlike the normal sensation of fullness in the stomach that follows consumption of food, there are times when a person may feel full in the stomach even without eating (or eating only a few morsels of any type of food).
Such symptoms of easy or early satiety may persist for a long time. In these cases, the feeling of a full stomach is due to abdominal bloating. The bloating may occur in the stomach and the intestines, and may also be accompanied by a visual distension of the abdominal wall. When the feeling of full stomach occurs without consumption of adequate amounts of food, the condition is not normal. One should get a medical checkup done in such cases.
Why do we feel full after eating?
Hunger sensations arise in the brain when the blood glucose levels become low. Going without food even after feeling hungry intensifies the hunger sensations. A strong feeling of hunger is also accompanied by stomach contractions, which are referred to as hunger pangs. When we eat, our hunger pangs disappear and we feel satisfied (or achieve satiety).
People need to consume different amounts of food in order to feel satisfied. The amount of food that one needs to eat in order to get rid of hunger and achieve satiety is also referred to as appetite. Sensations of hunger and satiety are controlled by different areas of the brain. Activation of the hunger center of the brain triggers the need to eat. After we eat a sufficient quantity of food, the activity of the hunger center decreases and the satiety center in the brain gets activated.
Factors that stimulate the satiety center include blood glucose level, extent of distension of the walls of the stomach, and certain tastes in the foods we eat. The feeling of a full stomach is determined more by the extent of stretching of the abdominal wall than the blood glucose level or taste of food. That is why consumption of carbonated beverages and overeating are commonly associated with fullness in the stomach.
Read more on abdominal tightness.
The feeling of fullness in the stomach even without consuming any food may occur due to many different reasons. Irritation of the walls of the stomach due to gastritis and peptic ulcers is a common cause. A lack of appetite (also referred to as anorexia) and abdominal distension may also contribute to the feeling of full stomach without eating.
After small meals
Obstruction to the flow of stomach contents into the duodenum (due to presence of abnormal masses, or compression of stomach) can cause a sensation of full stomach even with small meals. The stretching capacity of the stomach may be limited in such cases due to the presence of obstructions. Stomach capacity may also get reduced after certain surgical procedures such as weight loss surgery or cancer surgery.
Abnormal Causes of a Full Stomach
As discussed in previous sections, the feeling of a full stomach usually results from eating or overeating. The fullness in the stomach is a normal event in such cases. However, there are some cases where the sensation of fullness in the stomach may be caused by an underlying disorder or disease. In such cases, the feeling of a full stomach may not be associated with consumption of food. Other symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain may also occur alongside.
Read more on stomach bloating.
Peptic ulcer refers to the formation of open sores in the mucosa of the stomach and the duodenum. The lower parts of the esophagus may also be involved in some cases. Severe gastritis is the most common cause of peptic ulcer. Drugs such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (commonly abbreviated as NSAIDs) frequently cause gastritis and peptic ulcers.
Dyspepsia is commonly known as indigestion. Non-ulcer dyspepsia refers to cases of indigestion that are not associated with peptic ulcers. Since no detectable abnormality exists in most cases of non-ulcer dyspepsia, this condition is also sometimes referred to as functional dyspepsia.
Gastritis refers to an inflammation of the walls of the stomach. The most common causes of gastritis are infection with the bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, and excessive use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Gastritis can lead to formation of stomach ulcers.
Gastric outlet obstruction
Many conditions can cause obstruction to the flow of stomach contents into the duodenum. Examples of conditions that can cause obstruction of the gastric outlet include pyloric stenosis, duodenal webs, peptic ulcer disease, polyps, and gallstones.
The emptying of the stomach is controlled by nerve signals from the vagus nerve. Gastroparesis is characterized by a dysfunction of the vagus nerve. Gastroparesis is a rare condition that is usually associated with chronic and poorly-managed diabetes mellitus, specific surgical procedures, and use of certain drugs.
Tumors in the stomach
The presence of tumors or polyps in the stomach can obstruct the stomach outlet. Both benign and malignant tumors may be associated with a fullness in the stomach. Obstruction to the flow of stomach contents may also occur due to the presence of abdominal tumors that compress the walls of the stomach. The extent of distension that the stomach can undergo may be limited in such cases.
The stomach is separated from the thoracic cavity by the large diaphragm. In hiatal hernia, the upper region of the stomach manages to enter the thoracic cavity by protruding through the hiatus (hole) in the diaphragm.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (commonly abbreviated as GERD) is a chronic condition that is characterized by a reflux of the gastric acid into the esophagus. Contact with the highly acidic gastric acid leads to irritation and inflammation of the esophagus, which may result in the feeling of fullness in the stomach.