What It Means For Your Stomach To Feel Hard When Pressed

A stomach that's hard to the touch can cause worry, especially if it's been around for a few days. But, as with most health-related concerns, it's best to understand the many possible reasons before allowing your mind to go there. 

If you've ever pressed on your belly and felt like it was harder than usual, the first possible cause for this could be constipation. The questions you should be asking yourself then would be "When was the last time I went to the toilet?" and "Do I get enough fiber in my diet?" 

Another possible reason for hardness in the stomach area could be excessive gas build-up; and, according to Shabnam Sarker, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee (via Livestrong), "that happens when you swallow extra air or consume food products that create a lot of gas." Even if you're pregnant and accustomed to carrying a baby belly around, more gas in your system would present itself with a firm abdomen. Chewing gum, talking while eating, and smoking could increase gassiness in your belly too. At times like these, you should be focusing on chewing your food mindfully, not talking while eating, avoiding drinking too many carbonated beverages or foods that increase gassiness, and really reviewing what kind of food you're consuming. Simple overeating can be the culprit too. 

If you're pregnant and you can rule out constipation and excess gas, a hard belly could also mean that you're experiencing Braxton-Hicks contractions, also known as false labor pains.

While some causes of a hard stomach could be harmless, there are also warning signs from your stomach that you shouldn't ignore.

A hard stomach could indicate gastrointestinal issues

Food intolerance — like lactose intolerance or gluten intolerance — and conditions such as SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth) could also be to blame, according to Sarker (via Livestrong). If you've had particular intolerances for a while, you probably already know what food caused the discomfort; and, if not, it's best to work with a healthcare professional to eliminate food triggers and find out what kind of diet works for you.

Gastrointestinal conditions like IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), IBD (inflammatory bowel disease), or diverticulitis could also present themselves as firm bellies. But with underlying health issues like Crohn's or ulcerative colitis — which are both forms of IBD — you'll also probably experience other symptoms like stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, weight loss, and blood in the stools. 

With gastrointestinal issues, it's important to consult with a specialist to get to the root of the problem. While IBS can be managed by changing your diet and managing your stress levels, IBD often requires medical treatment in the form of immunosuppressants, alongside dietary and lifestyle changes.

Liver disease or ovarian cysts can cause a hard stomach

Hardness around your stomach area could also be a symptom of advanced liver disease or an ovarian cyst. 

Our liver can be negatively impacted due to various reasons — alcohol abuse, hepatitis, underlying autoimmune diseases, and parasite infections being a few, per Johns Hopkins Medicine. Cirrhosis, which is defined as a chronic condition that develops in the late stages of liver disease, often presents in symptoms such as ascites (which is the term to denote fluid buildup in your abdomen), gallstones, jaundice, appetite loss, fatigue, vomiting blood, muscle loss, and even kidney failure. Ascites can make you feel like you're bloated and full and can result in a large abdomen. Diagnosing liver disease would typically involve blood tests, CT scans, ultrasounds, and MRIs. You might also be asked to do a liver biopsy to determine what kind of liver disease you're dealing with. 

A firm stomach could also indicate a benign ovarian cyst. While there are times when you may not experience any other symptoms other than an enlarged stomach, possible symptoms include stomach pain, discomfort during sex, changes in your period, fever, and nausea. Your healthcare provider will likely perform a pelvic exam, laparoscopy, and vaginal sonogram if they suspect an ovarian cyst.

When a hard stomach could mean cancer

Pressing on your belly and feeling firmness could potentially be a sign of cancer in the stomach region. But the sensation of feeling full all the time would be a lot more consistent and long-lasting in the case of cancer. You'd also likely experience difficulty swallowing, bloatedness after meals, stomach cramping, vomiting, and heartburn.  

The important thing with a stomach that's hard to the touch is to be mindful of how long that sensation lasts and watch for accompanying symptoms. If you're even in the slightest bit of doubt that it's not just constipation, gassy tummy issues, or even food intolerance, reach out to a specialist and express your concern. They will examine your belly and recommend further tests (if needed) to figure out what's going on. 

Try not to ignore more telling signs like vomiting, diarrhea, blood in the stools or vomit, cramping, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc. Keep track of the symptoms and have them ready to be discussed with a healthcare professional. It's better to come away enlightened about what's causing the hardness in your stomach than to sit at home and let your mind wander.