An abdominal lump is a swelling or bulge that emerges from any area of the abdomen. It most often feels soft, but it may be firm depending on its underlying cause.
In most cases, a lump is caused by a hernia. A hernia is when your internal organs pushes through your abdominal muscles. This can be easily corrected with surgery. In rarer cases, the lump may be an undescended testicle, a harmless hematoma, or lipoma. In even rarer circumstances, it may be a cancerous tumor.
A hernia causes the majority of lumps in the abdomen. Hernias often appear after you have strained your muscles by lifting something heavy, coughing for a long period, or being constipated.
There are several types of hernias. Three kinds of hernias can produce a noticeable lump:
An inguinal hernia occurs when there is a weakness in the abdominal wall and a part of the intestine or other soft tissue protrudes through it. You’ll most likely see or feel a lump in your abdomen and will feel pain when coughing, bending, or lifting.
In some cases, there are no symptoms until the condition gets worse. A hernia is not harmful by itself. However, it needs to be repaired surgically because it can cause complications, such as a loss of blood flow to the intestines or obstruction of the bowels.
An umbilical hernia is very similar to an inguinal hernia. However, it’s more localized and occurs around the navel. This type of hernia is most common in babies and will often disappear as the their abdominal wall heals. The classic sign of an umbilical hernia in a baby is outward bulging of the belly button when they cry.
Surgery is required to fix an umbilical hernia if it doesn’t heal on its own by the time a child is 3 years old. The possible complications are similar to those of an inguinal hernia.
An incisional hernia is one that appears due to a surgical cut that has weakened the abdominal wall. It requires corrective surgery to avoid complications.
Less common causes
If a hernia isn’t the cause of an abdominal lump, there are several other possibilities.
A hematoma is a collection of blood under the skin that results from broken blood vessels. Hematomas are typically caused by an injury. If a hematoma occurs by your abdomen, a bulge and discolored skin may appear. Hematomas typically resolve without needing treatment.
A lipoma is a lump of fat that collects under the skin. It feels like a firm, rubbery bulge that moves slightly when pushed. Lipomas grow very slowly, can occur anywhere on the body, and are almost always benign. They can be removed surgically, but in most cases, surgery isn’t necessary.
During fetal development, the testicles form in the abdomen and then descend into the scrotum. In some cases, one or more of them may not fully descend. This may cause a small lump near the groin in newborn boys and can be corrected with hormone therapy or surgery to bring the testicle into position.
Although very rare, a benign or cancerous tumor on an organ in the abdomen or in the skin or muscles can cause a noticeable lump. Whether it requires surgery or another type of treatment depends on the type of tumor and its location.
When to See Your Doctor
If you feel or see a lump in your abdomen that you cannot identify, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you also have a fever, vomiting, or pain around the lump, you may need emergency care.
At your doctor’s appointment, you can expect to receive a physical examination of your abdomen. Your doctor may ask you to cough or strain in some way while they’re examining your abdomen.
Other questions they may ask include:
- When did you notice the lump?
- Has the lump changed size or location?
- What makes it change, if at all?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
If you have a hernia, your doctor will likely be able to diagnose it during the physical exam. You can then discuss arrangements for a surgical correction.
If your doctor doesn’t believe the lump is a hernia, it may require further testing. For a hematoma or lipoma, you probably won’t need further tests. If a tumor is suspected, you may need imaging tests to determine its location and extent. You may also need a biopsy, or tissue removal, to determine if the tumor is malignant (cancerous) or benign (noncancerous).