You’ve probably felt your neck or wrist to check your pulse before, but what about feeling a pulse in your stomach? While this can be alarming, it’s usually not anything to worry about. You’re most likely just feeling your pulse in your abdominal aorta.

Your aorta is the main artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body. It runs from your heart, down the center of your chest, and into your abdomen. It’s normal to feel blood pumping through this large artery from time to time. However, it’s sometimes a sign of something more serious.

Read on to learn more about why you might feel a pulse in your stomach and when it could be a sign of an underlying condition.

Pregnancy

Some women report feeling a pulse in their stomach when they’re pregnant. While this might feel like your baby’s heartbeat, it’s actually just the pulse in your abdominal aorta.

When you’re pregnant, the amount of blood circulating around your body dramatically increases. This means there’s more blood being pumped with each heartbeat, which can make the pulse in your abdominal aorta more noticeable.

Eating

When you eat, your body puts in extra work to digest food and absorb energy and nutrients. To accomplish this, it pumps extra blood to your stomach and small intestine through your aorta. If you notice a pulse in your stomach after eating, it’s likely due to increased blood being pumped through your abdominal aorta.

Laying down

You might also feel a pulse in your stomach if you lie down and raise your knees. Again, this sensation is just due to blood flowing through your abdominal aorta. If you don’t have a lot of abdominal fat, you might even be able to see your stomach pulsating. This is completely normal and should go away once you stand up.

An abdominal aortic aneurysm refers to an enlarged area near the bottom part of your aorta. They usually develop over the course of several years and don’t produce many symptoms. However, if the area expands too much, your aorta can burst, causing dangerous internal bleeding.

Symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm include:

  • deep pain in your abdomen or on the side of your abdomen
  • pulse near your bellybutton
  • back pain

No one’s sure what causes this to happen, but certain things seem to increase your risk, including:

Abdominal aortic aneurysms are also four times more common in men and tend to affect people over the age of 48.

Keep in mind that aneurysms vary in size, and it’s hard to predict whether they’ll grow. If you notice any symptoms that come on suddenly or become severe, contact your doctor right away. If you have an increased risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, you should contact your doctor about any symptoms, even if they’re mild.

If your doctor thinks you might have an aneurysm, they’ll likely use an imaging test, such as an MRI, CT scan, or ultrasound, to get a better look at your abdomen. If you do have an aneurysm, treatment will depend on the size. If it’s small, your doctor may suggest just keeping an eye on it and watching for any new symptoms. Larger aneurysms and ruptured aneurysms require surgical treatment.

While you might be caught off guard when you feel a pulse in your stomach, it’s likely just the pulse of your abdominal aorta, especially if you’re under the age of 50. Certain things, such as being pregnant or eating a large meal, can make the pulse in your abdomen more noticeable. However, if it’s accompanied by abdominal pain, or you have a higher risk of developing an abdominal aortic aneurysm, it’s best to make an appointment with your doctor.