People can often feel a pulse in their abdominal aorta, a large artery that runs through the stomach. While this is typically no cause for concern, it can be a sign of serious complications.

In some cases, a pulsing sensation in the stomach is due to an abdominal aortic aneurysm. An aneurysm occurs when a weakened blood vessel area swells, forming a bulge. In people with an abdominal aortic aneurysm, this occurs in part of the aortic artery in the abdomen.

People with this condition rarely experience any other symptoms unless the swelling tears or ruptures. This is a medical emergency when it occurs.

This article outlines the causes of a pulse in the stomach and explains when to see a doctor. We also provide information on abdominal aortic aneurysms, including the symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.

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A person may be able to feel a pulse from the abdominal aorta when something increases blood flow in the area. This may occur:

  • during pregnancy
  • when lying down
  • when pressing on the stomach
  • when eating

However, a pulsing sensation in the stomach region may result from an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

An aortic aneurysm is when the aorta bulges outward. If the bulging occurs in the abdominal aorta, it is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Without treatment, the aneurysm may weaken to the extent that it tears or ruptures.

The aorta is the largest artery in the body. It begins at the heart and extends down through the chest and abdomen. The abdominal aorta sits deep inside the abdomen, just in front of the spine.

Symptoms

Abdominal aortic aneurysms usually develop gradually over many years. Most people who develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm may not experience any symptoms.

When symptoms do occur, they are often sudden. The following symptoms are usually the result of a tear or leak in the aorta:

A severe tear or rupture in the aorta is a medical emergency. A person who has the above symptoms or witnesses someone else experiencing them should call for immediate medical help.

Causes

Most abdominal aortic aneurysms are due to atherosclerosis, which is when fatty deposits build up along the insides of artery walls, restricting blood flow through the artery. Other causes include injury and infection.

Risk factors

The following factors may increase the risk of an abdominal aortic aneurysm:

Sex, age, and lifestyle factors

Men ages 65 years and over who smoke or have previously smoked are at the highest risk of abdominal aortic aneurysms.

As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that men who are smokers or ex-smokers between the ages of 65–75 years get an abdominal ultrasound screening, even if they have no symptoms.

Family history

According to the National Institutes of Health, 1 in 10 people who develop an abdominal aortic aneurysm have a family history of the condition.

People who have a first-degree relative (such as a parent or sibling) with the condition have a 20% chance of developing the condition.

Other risk factors

Other risk factors include:

  • high cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • atherosclerosis
  • inflamed arteries
  • emphysema, a lung condition
  • Marfan syndrome
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

Feeling a pulse in the abdomen is a symptom rather than a condition itself. However, if a person experiences persistent pulsing in their stomach a doctor may wish to check for an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

To do so, they will examine the abdominal area and may listen to the abdomen with a stethoscope. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor may order one or more of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Abdominal ultrasound. This imaging technique uses sound waves to see tissues inside the body and can help determine the size of the aneurysm.
  • Doppler ultrasound. This type of ultrasound uses sound waves to assess blood flow through arteries and veins.
  • Abdominal and pelvic CT scan. This scan combines a series of X-ray images to give a detailed picture of tissues inside the body. It helps determine the size and extent of an aneurysm.
  • Angiography. This test combines X-ray, CT, or MRI scans with a contrast dye to show major blood vessels inside the body.

In most cases, feeling a pulse in the abdomen will not require treatment. However, it may be necessary if a person has an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Treatment options will vary depending on the size and location of the aneurysm. The doctor will also consider other factors, such as the person’s age and health.

For people with an aneurysm that is smaller than 5 centimeters (cm) in diameter, a doctor may recommend the following treatment plan:

A doctor may recommend surgery for an aneurysm that is more than 5 cm in diameter or is growing rapidly or leaking. Surgical options include open surgical repair (OSR) and endovascular aortic repair (EAR).

Feeling a pulse in the stomach is often no cause for concern, especially in those without any cardiovascular problems.

However, feeling a pulse in the stomach could indicate an abdominal aortic aneurysm. People should see a doctor if they are concerned about their risks, especially because this condition often causes no symptoms.

Regular medical check-ups are vital for people at increased risk of developing aneurysms.

In some cases, feeling a pulse in the stomach is not a cause for concern.

Many people who are at a healthy weight and do not have risk factors for cardiovascular issues can feel their pulse in their abdomen. In other cases, it may indicate a serious issue called an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

People should see a doctor if they experience symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, are at a higher risk of developing one, or have a family history of the condition.

A doctor may recommend managing the condition with medication, or they may suggest surgery to repair the weakened artery.