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
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
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
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).