An abdominal mass is a swelling in the abdomen which may be identified upon palpation of the abdomen, or with the use of medical imaging to look inside the abdomen. There are a wide variety of types of abdominal masses, along with a range of causes for such masses, and the treatment approach depends on what is causing the area of enlargement in the abdomen. Some abdominal masses are benign, requiring only monitoring to ensure that they do not expand, while others may be the sign of a more serious medical condition and the corresponding need for surgery and other interventions.
Some people experience no symptoms with an abdominal mass, while others may have abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, and abdominal tenderness. In some cases, the mass is discovered during a routine physical examination. When an abdominal mass is identified, a doctor must determine what it is in order to decide on a course of treatment.
If a mass is large enough, it can be felt when the abdomen is palpated. Depending on the type of mass, it may feel solid and hard, or softer and fluid-filled. In some cases, the palpation causes pain for the patient, making it easier to pinpoint the area of the mass. Once a mass has been identified with palpation, the next step is usually to order an imaging study to learn more about the nature of the mass. The patient's blood may also be drawn to gather additional information, and in some cases, the mass may be biopsied.
Tumors, cysts, hernias, and enlarged organs can all cause abdominal masses. Infection, inflammation, bowel obstructions, and fluid retention can also result in a mass in the abdomen, as can specific medical conditions like appendicitis and abdominal aortic aneurysm. Some conditions are very easy to identify; appendicitis, for example, has a very specific set of symptoms which can be used to quickly identify the problem and get the patient into surgery. Other masses may require a more lengthy period of diagnostic testing.
In the best case scenario, a doctor determines that an abdominal mass is benign, and that while it should be monitored, it is not a cause for concern. A doctor may also learn that an abdominal mass is linked to a condition which can be treated with medication. In other instances, surgery may be required to remove the mass or correct the underlying problem. The worst case scenario involves an abdominal mass caused by a condition which cannot be treated, in which case the goal will be to keep the patient comfortable, rather than to attempt treatment.