What is a hernia?
A 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.
Many hernias occur in the abdomen between your chest and hips, but they can also appear in the upper thigh and groin areas.
Most hernias aren’t immediately life threatening, but they don’t go away on their own. Sometimes they can require surgery to prevent dangerous complications.
Types of hernia
There are several different types of hernias. Below, we’ll explore some of the most common ones
Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernia. They occur when the intestines push through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall, often in the inguinal canal.
The inguinal canal is found in your groin. In men, it’s the area where the spermatic cord passes from the abdomen to the scrotum. This cord attaches to the testicles. In women, the inguinal canal contains a ligament (called the round ligament) that helps hold the uterus in place.
A hiatal hernia occurs when part of your stomach protrudes up through the diaphragm into your chest cavity. 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.
This type of hernia is most common in people over 50 years old. If a child has the condition, it’s typically caused by a congenital birth irregularity.
Hiatal hernias almost always cause gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). In GERD, the stomach contents leak backward into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation.
A ventral hernia happens when tissue bulges through an opening in the muscles of your abdomen. You may notice that a ventral hernia decreases in size when you’re lying down.
Although a ventral hernia can be present from birth, it’s more commonly acquired at some point during your lifetime. Common factors in ventral hernia formation include obesity, pregnancy, and strenuous activity.
Ventral hernias can also occur at the site of a surgical incision. This is called an incisional hernia and can result from surgical scarring or weakness of the abdominal muscles at the surgical site.
What Are Symptoms of a Hernia?
Symptoms of hernia can vary depending on their location in the body and many hernias do not cause any symptoms. Groin hernias may not cause symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:
- Heavy or tugging feeling in the groin area
- Bulge or lump at the groin
- Dull pain that worsens when straining, lifting, coughing, or using the muscles near the groin
Most small hiatal hernias cause no symptoms. Moderate sized hiatal hernia symptoms include:
- Occasional vomiting or retching
- Reflux of gastric acid or recently eaten food
- Abdominal cramps
What Causes a Hernia?
Weak connective tissue or musculature can cause a hernia to develop.
Increased pressure inside the abdominal cavity can make a hernia worse or cause more symptoms. Pressure in the abdomen may be increased by:
- Chronic constipation and straining during bowel movements
- Forceful coughing
How Is a Hernia Diagnosed?
Hernias are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination, along with tests such as:
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
- Barium X-ray
What Is the Treatment for a Hernia?
Except for umbilical hernias in infants, hernias generally do not go away on their own. The main treatment for all types of hernias is surgical repair.
Types of surgery to repair a hernia include:
- Open surgery
- An incision is made where the hernia is located
- The protruding tissue is pushed back into place
- A mesh may be implanted for additional support
- Laparoscopic surgery
- Similar to open surgery, except small incisions are made so surgical tools can be inserted to perform the procedure
- Robotic hernia repair
- Similar to laparoscopic surgery with small incisions
- A surgeon operates surgical instruments from a console
Notify your doctor if you have symptoms of hernia, or if you think you are having side effects. Do not self-medicate (including herbs, supplements) without discussing it with your doctor. Even the best physician never bats 1000, so do not hesitate to openly discuss with your doctor referrals for second or third opinions if the diagnosis cannot be firmly established and the pain persists. Self-education is important, but make sure what you read comes from credible sources.
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