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What to Know About an Abdominal Mass

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on May 01, 2021

An abdominal mass is a growth or swelling in a part of your abdomen. An abdominal mass can have many causes that range from harmless to life-threatening. 

Most abdominal masses are found during routine physical exams. They often develop slowly, and you may not be able to feel them yourself. Your doctor will be able to narrow down the possible causes based on where the mass is located and your symptoms.

Where Are Abdominal Masses Located?

Your doctor may use the following terms to narrow down the location of your abdominal mass: 

  • Right upper quadrant
  • Right lower quadrant
  • Left upper quadrant
  • Left lower quadrant
  • Epigastric, which is just below your ribcage in the center of your abdomen
  • Periumbilical, which is the area around your belly button

What Can Cause an Abdominal Mass?

Abdominal masses can be caused by a lot of different conditions, including the following.

Cancers. Different types of cancers can cause an abdominal mass, such as:

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‌Cysts. Cysts are sacs that can form almost anywhere on your body. They can be filled with semi-solid material or fluid. They are usually not cancerous. In rare cases, they can be. The types of cysts that can cause abdominal masses include:

Abdominal aortic aneurysm. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in your body. It runs from your heart down the center of your chest and abdomen. An aneurysm is a bulge in the wall of an artery where there is a weak spot.  A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm can be a life-threatening complication.

Enlarged liver. Your liver is usually behind your right rib cage and can't be felt. If your doctor can feel it, it may mean you have hepatomegaly. This is a liver that is bigger than normal. It can be caused by many different conditions, such as:

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Enlarged spleen. Your spleen is about the size of a fist. Like your liver, it normally can't be felt during an exam. There are a lot of conditions that can cause an enlarged spleen, which is called splenomegaly. Some of these are:

Gallbladder inflammation. This condition is called cholecystitis. It's usually caused by a gallstone blocking a duct. Cholecystitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute cholecystitis happens suddenly with severe pain in your upper abdomen. Chronic cholecystitis is long-lasting and can damage your gallbladder. In either case, the treatment is usually removing your gallbladder.  

Crohn's disease. This is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that causes chronic inflammation of your gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Your GI tract refers to all of the organs involved in digesting your food. Crohn's disease can affect any part of it. But, it typically affects the end of the small bowel and the beginning of the colon. 

Uterine fibroids.Fibroids can be large enough to distend a woman’s uterus or so small that they are microscopic. These are noncancerous growths in the uterus. Most women will have them at some point during their childbearing years. You may not have any symptoms or you may have any of the following:

  • Periods that last longer than a week
  • Heavy bleeding during your period
  • Pressure in your pelvic area
  • Pain in your back or legs
  • Constipation
  • Frequent urination

What Are the Symptoms of an Abdominal Mass?

You might not feel any symptoms if you have an abdominal mass. It might be discovered by your doctor as part of a regular checkup. Depending on what's causing it, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bleeding from your rectum
  • Blood in your urine
  • Weight loss
  • Fullness in the abdomen

How Is an Abdominal Mass Diagnosed?

If your doctor finds an abdominal mass, you will probably need to have further tests to figure out what is causing it. These can include: 

You may need further tests depending on the underlying cause.

How Is an Abdominal Mass Treated?

The treatment for your abdominal mass will depend on its underlying cause. Some of them are: 

  • Surgery
  • Medicine
  • Chemotherapy
  • Lifestyle changes
WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Cleveland Clinic: "Enlarged Spleen."

CROHN'S & COLITIS FOUNDATION: "Overview of Crohn's Disease."

Harvard Health Publishing: "Cysts (Overview)."

MAYO CLINIC: "Abdominal aortic aneurysm," "Enlarged liver," "Uterine fibroids."

MERCK MANUAL: "Cholecystitis."

Patient.info: "Abdominal Masses."

Scientific American Surgery: "ABDOMINAL PAIN AND ABDOMINAL MASS."

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