Heartbeat in your stomach? When to worry

Don’t ignore the feeling of a heartbeat in your stomach: It could be an abdominal aortic aneurysm

Feeling your heartbeat in your stomach can be a sign that an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) has formed and has gotten larger.

The abdominal aneurysm occurs when a portion of the aorta enlarges like a balloon. The aorta is the largest blood vessel in the body and supplies blood to the pelvis, abdomen and legs. Sometimes the AAA remains small, or it may tear or burst, causing life-threatening internal bleeding.

According to the Society for Vascular Surgery (SVS), 200,000 adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with AAA every year. It is the 10th leading cause of death for American men over the age of 55, and a ruptured AAA is the 15th leading cause of death in the U.S.


Abdominal aortic aneurysm often grows slowly without symptoms for most patients. If you have an enlarging abdominal aortic aneurysm, you might notice:

  • Deep, constant pain in your abdomen or on the side of your abdomen
  • Back pain
  • Feeling your heartbeat in your stomach or a pulsing feeling near your navel (bellybutton)

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AAA can be detected with an abdominal ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Many lifestyle habits and health conditions can signal a greater risk for an AAA. Those over age 50 with a history of the following are at greatest risk:

  • Smoking is the strongest risk factor for AAA. It weakens the walls of the aorta and can increase the chance of the AAA.
  • Age and ethnicity are also strong predictors of AAA. White people assigned male at birth are in the highest risk group.
  • Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol also put people at a higher risk for AAA.
  • Family history of AAA increases your risk of the condition.

Don’t put off a check-in with your doctor if you have these risk factors or the symptoms described above.

Reviewed by Gregory C Schmieder, M.D., vascular surgeon with Norton Heart & Vascular Institute

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