A groin lump refers to any lump that appears in the groin area—where the legs and trunk connect.
The lump can vary in shape and size, and may be painful or not. Some lumps appear on their own, while others appear as a collection of lumps. Some lumps may be mobile. A groin lump may remain skin-colored, or could turn red or purple. Some groin lumps may ulcerate (break open), or form sores.
The shape and appearance of a groin lump depends on the cause of the lump. Any groin lump that develops should be assessed by a doctor as soon as possible.
Many groin lumps are cysts, benign (non-cancerous) lumps that cause no harm. However, some groin lumps can be indicators of a more serious condition.
If you have an infection or illness, such as a cold, flu or mononucleosis, your groin lump could be a swollen lymph gland. Typically, these will flare up at the same time as the lymph glands located in your throat and armpits. Your lymph nodes swell to remove bacteria and foreign particles, and will return to normal once the illness has passed.
A hernia occurs when the intestines or abdominal tissue pokes through an opening in a muscle wall or ligament meant to provide a boundary. For example, the intestines may break through a weakened area in the lower abdominal wall. This usually occurs due to a defect or weakness in the abdominal wall coupled with muscle strain. Hernias require urgent medical attention. They typically feel like large, soft lumps.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI)
Some sexually transmitted infections (STI) can cause groin lumps due to swollen lymph nodes. These include herpes, chlamydia, and gonorrhoea. Some STIs may cause a cluster of lumps that may ulcerate (break open) or form sores. STIs require medical attention to heal.
If you have a groin lump that disappears when you lie down, it could be a saphena varix. This occurs when the valve of the saphenous vein fails to open correctly to let blood flow through, causing the blood to collect inside the vein. Saphena varix causes golf-ball sized lumps that have a blue tinge. You are more likely to suffer from this condition if you have varicose veins, or an enlarged vein. This is an extremely rare condition.
A groin lump cannot be treated at home. You should seek medical attention as soon as possible after noticing the lump, and return to the doctor if the lump remains after three weeks of treatment.
Because there are so many possible causes of a groin lump, your doctor will need to ask you a series of questions. This will include questions about your current health and if you have been suffering from any other symptoms. You may have a blood test to check for signs of infection, and the doctor will feel your lymph nodes for inflammation.
You will also be asked questions about the lump itself. These will include:
- When did the lump first appear?
- How big is the lump?
- Has the lump grown in size?
- Did the lump develop suddenly or over a few days?
- Does the lump change in size or shape when you cough (this could indicate a hernia)?
You may also be asked whether you could have contracted an STI. Most STIs are diagnosed using a blood test, a urine test, or a swab of the urethra.
The treatment you receive will depend on the cause of the groin lump. Cysts may be surgically removed if they are large or painful. A hernia will require surgery to move the tissue back into place and close the hole in the boundary tissue. Swollen glands will typically go down in time, though you may be prescribed an antibiotic to help your body fight the underlying infection.
Your doctor should always promptly examine a groin lump.
While cysts and swollen glands are not likely to cause any long-term complications, a hernia can be fatal if not treated quickly. An incarcerated hernia occurs when part of the intestine becomes trapped in the abdominal wall, causing a bowel obstruction. This can lead to vomiting, severe pain, and nausea. A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency. It occurs when part of the intestine is trapped, cutting off blood flow. This condition can quickly lead to tissue death, and requires emergency surgery.
Sexually transmitted infections that cause groin lumps, such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia, can lead to infertility if left untreated. Infections such as syphilis can cause blindness, paralysis, and dementia. All sexually transmitted diseases require medication to treat, and can easily be passed on to others through unprotected vaginal or oral sex.
Most groin lumps occur naturally and cannot be prevented.
However, sexually transmitted infections can be avoided by always using a condom.
If you are at risk of developing a hernia, you may be able to reduce the chances of it occurring by avoiding heavy lifting, not straining during bowel movements, and maintaining a healthy weight. You may be more at risk of a hernia if you have a family history of hernias, are overweight or pregnant, or have a chronic cough.