A hernia occurs when an internal organ or other body part protrudes through the wall of muscle or tissue that normally contains it. Most hernias occur within the abdominal cavity, between the chest and the hips.
The most common forms of hernia are:
Other types of hernias include:
A hernia in the abdomen or groin can produce a noticeable lump or bulge that can be pushed back in, or that can disappear when lying down. Laughing, crying, coughing, straining during a bowel movement, or physical activity may make the lump reappear after it has been pushed in. More symptoms of a hernia include:
In the case of hiatal hernias there are no bulges on the outside of the body. Instead, symptoms may include heartburn, indigestion, difficulty swallowing, frequent regurgitation, and chest pain.
It is usually possible to see or feel a bulge in the area where a hernia has occurred by physical exam. Part of a male’s typical physical exam for inguinal hernias includes the doctor feeling the area around the testicles and groin while the patient is asked to cough. In some cases, soft-tissue imaging like a CT scan will accurately diagnose the condition.
Inguinal and femoral hernias are due to weakened muscles that may have been present since birth, or are associated with aging and repeated strains on the abdominal and groin areas. Such strain may come from physical exertion, obesity, pregnancy, frequent coughing, or straining on the toilet due to constipation.
Umbilical hernias Adults may get an umbilical hernia by straining the abdominal area, being overweight, having a long-lasting heavy cough, or after giving birth.
The cause of hiatal hernias is not fully understood but a weakening of the diaphragm with age or pressure on the abdomen could play a part.
Of all hernias that occur:
In the case of an umbilical hernia in a child, surgery may be recommended if the hernia is large or if it has not healed by the age of 4–5 years old. By this age, a child can usually avoid surgical complications.
If an adult has an umbilical hernia, surgery is usually recommended because the condition will not likely improve on its own and the risk of complications is higher.
One of two types of hernia surgery can be performed, depending on each patient’s case:
Each type of surgery has its advantages and disadvantages. The best approach will be decided by the patient’s surgeon.
Other than umbilical hernias in babies, hernias will not disappear on their own. Over time, a hernia can grow larger and more painful or can develop complications.
Complications of an untreated inguinal or femoral hernia may include:
Obstruction (incarceration) – Part of the intestine becomes stuck in the inguinal canal, causing nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and a painful lump in the groin.
Strangulation – Part of the intestine is trapped in a way that cuts off its blood supply. In such cases, emergency surgery (within hours of occurring) is called for to prevent tissue death.
After surgery, you will be given instructions. These include what diet to follow, how to care for the incision site, and how to take care to avoid physical strain. Hernias may recur regardless of the repair operations, sometimes this can be due to inherent tissue weakness or protracted healing. Smoking and obesity are also major risk factors for hernia recurrence.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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