Palpation

Palpation means pushing down to see if the organs can be felt. For example, the aorta that supplies blood to the lower limbs of the body runs directly beneath the bellybutton and should be only an inch wide. If it is wider than that, there could be a problem like an aneurysm.

The health care provider also looks for tenderness, or pain, that you might feel when he or she briefly pushes in and then quickly lifts his or her hands off your stomach. Such pain indicates that the membrane that lines the abdominal cavity is inflamed. This often happens when the appendix becomes diseased, the bowel has a hole, or there is inflammation in the lining of the belly.

The health care provider can often feel whether certain internal organs (like the liver, spleen, or uterus) are enlarged. The next step is finding the reason for the enlargement—possibly disease.