Ventral Hernia

Abdominal Lump: What Is It?

When the abdomen has a bulge or some swelling, it is referred to as an abdominal lump. Most of the time, these are soft but, depending on the cause, they can be firm.

Hernias are the most common reason for a lump to form and are when the internal organs protrude through the muscles in the abdomen. Surgery is used for easy correction. There are cases where the lump is due to a harmless hematoma, a lipoma or an undescended testicle but these cases are rare. A tumor that is cancerous is another possibility but even rarer.

Abdominal Lump Causes

Most of the abdominal lumps are caused due to a hernia, which is when the internal organs protrude through the abdominal wall and muscles, usually where there is a weak spot. More often than not, the hernias are due to straining the muscles by heavy lifting, constipation and even if you cough over a long time period.

There are different hernia types and three of those will cause lumps that are noticeable.

Inguinal Hernia:

This is when part of the soft tissue or intestines protrude through an abdominal wall weakness. You will usually feel or see the lump through your skin and it is often painful when lifting, bending or simply coughing.

There are times that inguinal hernias have no symptoms at first. The hernia isn’t initially harmful but complications can arise, which is why surgical repair is necessary. Complications include the bowels being obstructed or the intestines losing blood flow.

Umbilical Hernia:

This is very similar to the inguinal hernia but is localized at the navel area. Infants are the most common patients of umbilical hernias but they often disappear on their own as the abdominal walls grow stronger and heal. You will know if your baby has one of these hernias by the belly button bulging outwards while she is crying.

When the hernia doesn’t heal, surgery is an option to fix it and will happen when your child is three. There are similar complications as to the ones experienced with inguinal hernias.

Incisional Hernia:

Surgery can weaken the abdominal wall and incisional hernias can appear because of that. To avoid any complications, more surgery will be needed to correct it.

Less Common Causes:

When the lump is not caused by a hernia, there are other possibilities, including:

  • Hematoma: where the blood collects under the skin after the blood vessels break. This is often because of an injury. If the hematoma is in the abdomen, a lump can form with some skin discoloration. Most of the time no treatment is necessary and the issue will repair itself.
  • Lipoma: this is when fat is collected underneath the skin. It usually feels rubbery and firm and can move around when you push on it. They can grow anywhere and are slow to occur. Most of the time no surgery is necessary and the lumps are benign. Surgery can be used to remove them if necessary though.
  • Undescended Testicle: this occurs during the development of a fetus and the testicles start within the abdomen and then move downwards into the scrotum. For some people, this doesn’t happen and small lumps can occur in newborn babies around the groin area. Surgery and hormone therapy can be used to get the testicle where it should be.
  • Tumors: these are rare and can be cancerous or benign. They can appear in the skin, on the muscle or on one of the internal organs to cause a lump. The treatment will depend on the location and the type of tumor that it is.

Seeking Medical Help for Abdominal Lumps

When there is a lump that you can’t indentify, it is important to seek medical help. You should immediately call your doctor if you are vomiting, have a fever or the lump is painful.

Your doctor will give you a full physical exam to check the area. You may have to strain or cough so the doctor can make a full diagnosis. Other questions he may ask include:

  • When the lump appeared
  • If the location or size has changed
  • Any reasons why it change
  • If there are other symptoms that you are experiencing

The doctor will usually have the ability to diagnose a hernia during your exam and will be able to go through your treatment options available.

When the doctor doesn’t believe the lump is because of a hernia, he may want to carry out further tests. Lipomas and hematomas don’t need any extra tests. If the doctor suspects a tumor, image testing will need to be carried out for the location and size. A biopsy is also possible to check if the tumor is cancerous or not – this requires a sample of the tissue.