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Hernias are Common. May Be Painful and Dangerous

It’s good to know about common medical conditions. If they don’t affect you, they may affect someone you care about. One common problem for men, women and children is a hernia. 

More than a million hernia repairs are performed each year — and more people are just living with their hernias.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is when part of an internal organ or tissue bulges through a weak area or hole in the lining of the abdominal cavity, called the peritoneum.

Hernias are more common in the abdomen, groin and upper thigh area and around the belly button. They can also happen where you may have had an incision from surgery.

There are different hernia types. The type depends on where it is:

  • Femoral hernia is a bulge in the upper thigh, just below the groin. This type is more common in women than men.
  • Inguinal hernia is a bulge in the groin. It is more common in men. It may go all the way down into the scrotum.
  • Hiatal hernia occurs in the upper part of the stomach. Part of the upper stomach pushes into the chest.
  • Umbilical hernia is a bulge around the belly button. It occurs when the muscle around the belly button does not close completely after birth.
  • Incisional hernia can occur through a scar if you have had abdominal surgery in the past.

What causes hernias?

There may not be a clear cause for a hernia. Some people are born with weak abdominal tissues that leave them more susceptible to developing a hernia. A hernia may be present at birth, but not noticed until later in life. Some people have a family history of hernias.

Hernias can also result from:

  • Heavy lifting.
  • Straining while using the toilet.
  • Any activity that raises the pressure inside the belly, such as chronic constipation or a chronic cough.
  • Enlarged prostate, straining to urinate.
  • Extra weight.
  • Overexertion.
  • Smoking.

What are the signs of a hernia?

Some may have a hernia but no symptoms. Others may feel discomfort or pain. The discomfort can be worse when standing, straining or lifting something heavy.

Those with a hernia may notice a bump that’s sore and could be growing. If you have consistent discomfort, see your health care provider.

If the hernia gets bigger, part of an internal organ may get caught in the hole and lose its blood supply. This is called strangulation. If this happens you may notice:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Not being able to pass gas or have bowel movements.

If you have these signs, call your health care professional right away.

To diagnose a hernia, your health care provider will feel or look for a bulge. You may be asked to cough, bend, push or lift. An ultrasound, CT scan or X-ray may be used to help with diagnosis.

What are the treatments for a hernia?

Surgery is the only treatment that can permanently fix a hernia. Your health care professional can discuss with you if and when surgery is appropriate for you. If you have strangulation of a hernia, surgery should be scheduled right away.

Your health care professional can also discuss the type of procedure that will work best for you and your situation.

Some people find short-term relief from wearing a hernia best or truss to ease the discomfort of a hernia.

The usual outcome for most hernia repairs is good. Depending on the procedure, the chances of hernia recurrence are low.

Can hernias be prevented?

If you have a natural weakness in the abdominal lining, your chances of having a hernia are greater. However, you can reduce your chances if you:

  • Use proper lifting techniques.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight.
  • Avoid or relieve constipation by eating plenty of fiber, drinking lots of fluid and going to the bathroom as soon as you have the urge.
  • Exercise regularly.

Men should see their health care provider if they strain with urination. This may be a symptom of an enlarged prostate, which can be a cause of a hernia.

See your health care professional if you have any questions or concerns about hernias. 

Meet the Author

James A. Rydlewicz, MD is a general surgeon at the Aurora Medical Center in Grafton, WI

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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