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What does a lump between the ribcage above the stomach mean?

Key takeaways:

  • A lump between the ribcage above the stomach may indicate many underlying health problems.
  • A lump in the center of the abdomen may be due to epigastric hernia, certain types of cancer, or other issues.
  • Consult with your healthcare practitioner when you observe a lump on your abdomen.
  • Routine health check-ups may help you to catch health issues early and increase your chances of a better prognosis. 

There are a million things happening inside your body. In some cases, these unusual activities may manifest either as a sign or a symptom. A sign that is easily visible is an overgrowth on the abdomen observed as an abdominal mass or lump between the ribcage above the stomach.

In the majority of the cases, an abdominal lump can be an innocuous growth that can either go away on its own or through mild treatment. However, sometimes, it can signal a serious underlying condition. 

In any case, if you see a lump on your belly, it is best to see your medical practitioner to pin down the cause and further course of treatment.*

The most common cause of a lump between the rib cage above the stomach.

Lump between ribcage above stomach: woman with hands on her chest

The most common underlying problem that can cause an abdominal mass to appear is a hernia. A hernia occurs when part of an organ, or fatty tissue, squeezes into an area where it has no business being in.

All organs inside the abdominal cavity are surrounded by connective tissue and muscle to form the abdominal wall. If there is a weak spot – a fascia – in this wall, the part of the organ closest to it may squeeze through this newly formed opening to enter the adjoining cavity.  

A weak spot may occur in the connective tissue or the muscle as a result of pressure, for instance, when you lift a heavy object. 

A lump between the rib cage above the stomach is often due to a condition called epigastric hernia. 

Epigastrium is a part of your abdominal cavity that is just below the rib cage. In this condition, a lump may be visible just below the sternum, or breastbone. When the abdominal wall in this area weakens, fatty tissue pushes through the weak spot and forms a lump. The only symptom, if any, of this kind of condition is tenderness and a slight pain in the lump as the fatty tissue is pinched by the muscles in the abdominal wall.

Epigastric hernias won’t go away on their own, even if you feel no pain or other discomfort. In fact, these tend to get larger and may cause complications. Surgery is often recommended.

Pressure in the abdomen may also increase due to constipation, diarrhea, persistent coughing, or sneezing. Other reasons why abdominal muscles may become weak are poor nutrition, obesity, smoking and old age.

Other reasons for an abdominal mass

Your abdominal cavity is home to a number of organs like the stomach, gut, spleen, liver, kidneys, urinary bladder, pancreas, gallbladder, etc. The location of the abdominal mass on your belly may help your healthcare practitioner begin to identify which organ (or associated structure) it is coming from.

If you draw a cross on the abdomen, it gets divided into four areas, or quadrants – left upper, right upper, left lower and right lower. Your healthcare practitioner will likely identify the quadrant your lump is in. Lumps can also be classified as either epigastric, (if it is located in the center of the belly, just below the rib cage), or periumbilical (if it is located around the navel, or belly button).

There can be many possible causes for lumps on the abdomen:

Cysts.

Cysts are small sac-like structures usually filled with a semi-solid material. They can form anywhere in the body. Cysts that may cause a lump on the abdomen include ovarian cysts, pancreatic pseudocysts, and a harmless cyst called peritoneal inclusion. In rare cases, cysts may become cancerous.

Cysts, especially those that are easily visible, can be cleaned by draining the fluid and helping it to heal. However, cysts are usually a manifestation of an underlying cause so the focus should be on treating the condition. 

Most cysts form inside the body and may cause complications if they go undiagnosed and untreated. An imaging test like an MRI can help detect such abnormalities inside the body. 

Lipoma.

Lipomas are soft tissue tumors that form due to the slow growth of fatty tissue. They aren’t cancerous. They cause soft, rubbery lumps that move when you touch them.

They are very common with roughly 1 person in every 1,000 having them. Most lipomas will not bother you. However, bothersome lipomas may be removed through a minor surgery, which is usually an outpatient procedure.

Bacterial infection.

A bacterial infection can cause an abscess or a furuncle (boil), each of which may cause a lump on the surface of the skin. An abscess is a pus-filled pocket when bacteria enter the skin through a cut or a scratch, they localize and start multiplying. An infection involving a hair follicle may also result in a boil, or a furuncle.

The body’s defense mechanism – the immune system – fights these invaders. The battle leaves many dead cells – bacterial and tissue – along with liquid that has oozed out of the surrounding blood vessels. As the tissue dies, it creates a cavity. The “pus” fills the cavity and causes a lump-like structure.

The lumps are usually tender to touch and very painful. Treatment is through antibiotics.  

Hematoma.

When a blood vessel ruptures due to a trauma injury, blood leaks out into the tissues where it accumulates, causing what is known as hematoma. The formation of a lump is often a result of an associated inflammatory response – pain, swelling and redness.

Other conditions like certain medications, diseases, pregnancy, menstruation, labor, etc. may also cause hematomas.

Most hematomas naturally resolve with time. If the trauma is severe, there may be widespread internal bleeding and damage that may require medical intervention.

Splenomegaly.

Splenomegaly is a condition in which your spleen becomes enlarged as a result of an underlying condition like liver disease, infections, or blood cancers. The enlarged spleen bulges out and can be felt as a lump on the upper quadrant of the abdomen.

The first step is to assess why the spleen is enlarged and then to coordinate an appropriate treatment.

Abdominal aortic aneurysm.

An aortic aneurysm is a condition in which the aorta undergoes a balloon-like bulging. The aorta is a major blood vessel that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body. The bulge on the aorta may burst and cause extreme complications, even death.

If the bulging occurs further down the aorta, it is called abdominal aortic aneurysm. This results in a lump in the abdomen below the chest. While the lump itself may not be as painful, it may relate to throbbing, pulsating pain in the back or the left side.

Treatment of this condition is by a combination of medicines and surgery.  

Xiphoid syndrome (Xiphodynia).

The xiphoid process, also referred to as the metasternum, is a small, bony extension of the sternum at its lower end. When this part is damaged, it gets inflamed. The resultant swelling may form a lump on the abdomen.

The sternum, or breastbone, is in the center of the chest. A chest trauma is the major cause of xiphoid process inflammation.

Treatment depends upon the extent of injury. Before deciding on the course of treatment, the healthcare practitioner will first need to confirm diagnosis. This is usually done using imaging tests such as MRI or CT scan. 

If the xiphoid process isn’t fractured and is only inflamed, medication may help treat the condition. If, however, the damage is extensive, surgery may be needed.

Crohn’s disease.

Crohn’s disease is a severe condition affecting the digestive system. The digestive tract is inflamed, resulting in abdominal pain and severe diarrhea that results in malnutrition, fatigue and weight loss.

This condition may cause the formation of a mass in the right lower quadrant.

Cancer.

In rare cases, the abdominal mass observed on your belly may be a tumor of the underlying organ. 

Not all tumors are cancerous. To verify, you need a proper diagnosis from a medical professional.

If the abdominal mass is seen as a lump between the ribcage above the stomach, it may be a cancer of the stomach or the pancreas. Note: Ezra does not examine the stomach, as MRI technology is not the preferred way to scan this part of the body.

If the lump is in the right upper quadrant, it may be due to cancer of the liver or gallbladder. However, hepatomegaly, a condition in which the liver becomes enlarged, may also be due to other conditions. Similarly, if the lump is due to a problem with the gallbladder, it might either be cancer or cholecystitis (inflammation of the gallbladder).

If the abdominal mass is in the left upper quadrant, it may indicate the involvement of spleen, gut and kidney.

What are the symptoms of an abdominal mass?

Lump between ribcage above stomach: woman in pain touching her stomach

The symptoms of an abdominal lump will depend on the underlying condition. Pain is usually the most common symptom, along with tenderness of the lump. Many times, you will not experience any symptoms.

If you are suffering from epigastric hernia, you may experience symptoms like pain during an activity that exerts pressure on the hernia (coughing, lifting a heavy object, etc.), a burning sensation in the lump, a sense of heaviness, weakness or pressure in the abdomen.

Other symptoms may include gastrointestinal distress (constipation, diarrhea), rectal bleeding, weight loss, fever, etc.

What to do about abdominal lumps.

Nurse showing results to a patient

If you think you have a lump in the upper abdomen, visit your healthcare practitioner. However, a lump might not be apparent to you and will only be found during a routine physical exam.

Your healthcare practitioner will ask you to get a few tests. These may include blood tests, urinalysis, biopsy, and imaging tests like a CT (computed tomography) scan, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan.

Stay ahead of health issues with proactive screenings.

Elderly man smiling and standing

A lump between the ribcage above the stomach may indicate many things, from minor issues like abscesses, cysts, and lipomas, to more serious causes like hernia or cancer. If you find an abdominal mass, see your healthcare practitioner. They may also find a lump you haven’t noticed during a routine check-up, as they do not always cause observable symptoms. 

Health issues do not always show signs or symptoms. That’s why you need to stay on top of your health. At Ezra, we believe routine, annual screenings help you gain a look inside your body, so you have more information about what might be happening with your body. That way, you can take proactive control of your health. 

Early screening may give you a better chance of a good prognosis. So, we designed the Ezra Full Body, a full-body screening service that scans up to 13 organs for potential cancer. The Ezra Full Body Plus scans up to 14 organs. 

You also get a 45-minute follow-up consultation with a Medical Provider to walk you through your easy-to-interpret Ezra Report, and a personal Care Advisor to answer questions you may have throughout your Ezra experience. 

Our scans are fast, reliable, accurate and put you in an advantageous position with regards to your health. Book your Ezra scan today or take our five-minute quiz to better understand your risk of cancer. 

*Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is not intended to diagnose or recommend a specific medical treatment and should not be relied on for any medical purposes. It is intended to provide information that can help you manage your well-being. If you have any concerns about your health, please talk to a healthcare provider.