What Is a Hernia?
hernia occurs when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue
that holds it in place. For example, the intestines may break through a
weakened area in the abdominal wall.
are most common in the abdomen, but they can also appear in the upper thigh,
belly button, and groin areas. Most hernias are not immediately life
threatening, but they don’t
go away on their own and can require surgery to prevent potentially dangerous
Common Hernia Types
hernias are the most common type of hernia. They make up about 70 percent of
all hernias, according to the British Hernia Centre (BHC). These hernias occur when the intestines push through a
weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall, often in the inguinal canal.
inguinal canal is found in your groin. In men, it is the area where the
spermatic cord passes from the abdomen to the scrotum. This cord holds up the
testicles. In women, the inguinal canal contains a ligament that helps hold the
uterus in place.
type of hernia is more common in men than in women. This is because a man’s testicles descend through the inguinal canal shortly
after birth, and the canal is supposed to close almost completely behind them.
Sometimes, the canal does not close properly and leaves a weakened area prone
hiatal hernia occurs when part of your stomach protrudes up through the
diaphragm into your chest. The diaphragm is a sheet of muscle that helps you
breathe by contracting and drawing air into the lungs. It separates the organs
in your abdomen from those in your chest.
type of hernia is most common in patients over 50 years old. If a child has the
typically caused by a congenital (birth) defect. Hiatal hernias almost always
cause gastroesophageal reflux, which is when the stomach contents leak backward
into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation.
hernias can occur in children and babies under 6 months old. This happens when
their intestines bulge through their abdominal wall near their bellybutton. You
may notice a bulge in or near your child’s
bellybutton, especially when they’re
umbilical hernia is the only kind that often goes away on its own, typically by
the time the child is 1 year old. If the hernia has not gone away by this
point, surgery may be used to correct it.
hernias can occur after you’ve
had abdominal surgery. Your intestines may push through the incision scar or
the surrounding, weakened tissue.
What Causes a Hernia?
are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain. Depending on its
cause, a hernia can develop quickly or over a long period of time.
causes of muscle weakness include:
- failure of the abdominal wall to close properly in the
womb, which is a congenital defect
- chronic coughing
- damage from injury or surgery
that strain your body and may cause a hernia, especially if your muscles are
- being pregnant, which puts pressure on your abdomen)
- being constipated, which causes you to strain when
having a bowel movement
- heavy weight lifting
- fluid in the abdomen, or ascites
- suddenly gaining weight
- persistent coughing or sneezing
Am I at Risk for a Hernia?
factors that increase your risk of developing a hernia include:
- a personal or family history of hernias
- being overweight or obese
- a chronic cough
- chronic constipation
- smoking, which can trigger a chronic cough
such as cystic fibrosis can also indirectly increase your risk of developing a
hernia. Cystic fibrosis impairs the function of the lungs, causing a chronic
What Are the Symptoms of a Hernia?
most common symptom of a hernia is a bulge or lump in the affected area. In the
case of an inguinal hernia, you may notice a lump on either side of your pubic
bone where your groin and thigh meet. You’re
more likely to feel your hernia through touch when you’re standing up.
your baby has a hernia, you may only be able to feel the bulge when he or she
is crying. A bulge is typically the only symptom of an umbilical hernia.
common symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- pain or discomfort in the affected area (usually the
lower abdomen), especially when bending over, coughing, or lifting
- weakness, pressure, or a feeling of heaviness in the
- a burning, gurgling, or aching sensation at the site of
symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:
reflux, which is when stomach acid moves backward into the esophagus causing a
some cases, hernias have no symptoms. You may not know you have a hernia unless
it shows up during a routine physical or a medical exam for an unrelated
How Is a Hernia Diagnosed?
or incisional hernias are usually diagnosed through a physical examination.
Your doctor may feel for a bulge in your abdomen or groin that gets larger when
you stand, cough, or strain.
you have a hiatal hernia, your doctor may diagnosed it with a barium X-ray or endoscopy.
These tests allow your doctor to see the internal location of your stomach:
barium X-ray is a series of X-ray pictures of your digestive tract. The
pictures are recorded after you’ve
finished drinking a liquid solution containing barium, which shows up well on the
endoscopy involves threading a small
camera attached to a tube down your throat and into your esophagus and stomach.
your child has an umbilical hernia, your doctor may perform an ultrasound. An ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the
structures inside the body.
Treatment Options for a Hernia
or not you need treatment depends on the size of your hernia and the severity
of your symptoms. Your doctor may simply monitor your hernia for possible
complications. Treatment options for a hernia include:
changes can often treat the symptoms of a hiatal hernia. Avoid large or heavy
meals, don’t lie down or bend over after a meal,
and keep your body weight in a healthy range.
these changes in diet don’t
eliminate your discomfort, you may need surgery to correct the hernia. You can
also improve symptoms by avoiding foods that cause acid reflux or heartburn,
such as spicy foods and tomato-based foods. Additionally, you can avoid reflux
by losing weight and giving up cigarettes.
you have a hiatal hernia, over-the-counter and prescription medications that
reduce stomach acid can relieve your discomfort and improve symptoms. These
include antacids, H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors.
your hernia is growing larger or causing pain, your doctor may decide that it’s best to operate. Your doctor may repair your hernia by
sewing the hole in the abdominal wall closed during surgery. This is most
commonly done by patching the hole with surgical mesh.
can be repaired with either open or laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery uses a tiny camera and miniaturized surgical equipment to
repair the hernia using only a few small incisions. Laparoscopic surgery is
less damaging to the surrounding tissue.
surgery requires a longer recovery process. You may be unable to move around
normally for up to six weeks. Laparoscopic surgery has a much shorter recovery
time. However, the risk of your hernia reoccurring is higher. In addition, not
all hernias are suitable for laparoscopic repair, including those in which a
portion of your intestines has moved down into the scrotum.
Potential Complications of a Hernia
left untreated, your hernia may grow and become more painful. A portion of your
intestine could become trapped in the abdominal wall. This can obstruct your
bowel, causing severe pain, nausea, and constipation. An untreated hernia can
also put too much pressure on nearby tissues, which can cause swelling and pain
in the surrounding area.
the trapped section of your intestines doesn’t get enough blood flow, strangulation occurs. This can cause the intestinal
tissue to become infected or die. A strangulated hernia is life-threatening and
requires immediate medical care.
Preventing a Hernia
always prevent the muscle weakness that allows a hernia to occur. However, you
can reduce the amount of strain you place on your body. This may help you avoid
a hernia or keep an existing hernia from getting worse. Prevention tips
your doctor when you’re sick to avoid developing a persistent cough
a healthy body weight
straining during bowel movements or urination
objects with your knees and not your back
lifting weights that are too heavy for you
It’s important to recognize the early
signs of a hernia. An untreated hernia will not go away on its own. However,
with early medical care or lifestyle changes, you can minimize the effects of a
hernia and avoid life-threatening complications like strangulation.