Guide to Hernias
What is a hernia?
A hernia occurs when an internal organ or other body part pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that normally holds it in place, such as the intestines may break through a weakened area in the abdominal wall.
What causes a hernia?
Hernias are caused by a combination of muscle weakness and strain. A hernia may develop quickly or over a longer period of time.
Some common causes of muscle weakness are:
- Growing older and tissue becoming less elastic
- Damage from injury or a previous surgical incision
- Failure of the abdominal wall to close properly
Some common causes of developing a hernia due to weak muscles that are being strained include:
- Heavy weightlifting
- Obesity / being overweight with a large belly
- Frequent constipation and straining during a bowel movement
- Chronic coughing
What are symptoms of a hernia?
There are many different types of hernias, and each presents a different array of symptoms. In some cases, hernias have no symptoms. You may not know you have a hernia until it shows up during a routine physical or a medical exam.
Where do hernias occur?
Most hernias occur within the abdominal cavity between the chest and the hips.
Hernias can also appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas of the body. Even though most hernias are not immediately life threatening, hernias will not heal itself and will eventually require surgery to fix the area. An untreated hernia will not go away on its own.
How is a hernia diagnosed?
It’s important to recognize the early signs of a hernia and seek medical care as soon as possible from a doctor who specializes in hernia treatment and surgery. Do not avoid your hernia symptoms as an untreated hernia can lead to life-threatening complications.
It is usually possible to feel a bulge in the area where a hernia has occurred by physical exam. Most males who get a physical exam in order to play competitive sports, a doctor will usually feel for inguinal hernias by the doctor feeling the area around the testicles and groin while the patient is asked to cough.
For hernias that are hard to see or feel, a soft-tissue CT scan can accurately diagnose the condition.
Inguinal or incisional hernias are usually diagnosed during a physical exam when a doctor is able to feel a bulge in the abdomen / groin areas.
A hiatal hernia may be diagnosed with a barium X-ray (X-ray pictures of your digestive tract after drinking a liquid solution containing barium, which shows up well on X-ray images) or an endoscopy (threading a small camera attached to a tube down the patient’s throat), which allows the doctor to see the internal location of your stomach and digestive organs.
What are inguinal and femoral hernias?
Inguinal and femoral hernias: These hernias are caused from weakened muscles that could have been present since birth or associated with repeated strains on the abdominal and groin areas. Inguinal and femoral hernias can form from heavy physical activity, overweight, and other contributing risk factors.
What is umbilical hernia?
An umbilical hernia occurs when fatty tissue enters through the umbilical opening in the abdominal muscles. There are two types of umbilical hernias.
The most common symptoms are:
- Lump and swelling of the belly button area
- Pain in abdomen during strenuous activity
- Bulge or protrusion in the belly button area that often increases with physical exertion or coughing.
- A person may experience a sharp pain or dull ache in the belly button area.
- If a loop of bowel moves into the space and becomes trapped, symptoms that may occur include severe pain, nausea and vomiting. This requires emergency surgery.
What is inguinal hernia?
Inguinal hernia –Fatty tissue or a part of the intestine impedes into the groin at the top of the inner thigh.
This is the most common type of hernia, and affects men more often than women.
Some common symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- Pain while bending over, coughing, or lifting
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen
- Burning or aching sensation around the bulging area
What is femoral hernia?
Femoral hernia – Fatty tissue or part of the intestine protrudes into the groin at the top of the inner thigh.
Femoral hernias are much less common than inguinal hernias and affect mainly older women.
Common symptoms include:
- Lump and swelling in the abdominal / groin area
- Pain in abdomen while strenuous activity
- The bulge in the groin area appears to be increasing in size
What is hiatal hernia?
Hiatal hernia – Part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity through an opening in the diaphragm (the horizontal sheet of muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen).
Common symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:
- Chest pain
- Burning around the lump area
- Heartburn / acid reflux