What Is a Hernia?
Hernias are a very common medical condition that occurs when an organ or fatty tissue bulges through a weak spot in the muscle wall or fascia (the thin lining of connective tissue surrounding most parts of the body) containing it.¹
Each year roughly 5 million Americans experience a hernia, and over one million hernia repair surgeries are performed.¹ ² Although hernias are very common, they are more prevalent in men than women. Approximately 1 in 4 men (25%) and 1 in 50 women (2%) will require surgery for hernia repair during their lifetime.¹ While hernias can oftentimes be painless, it is important to know the signs and symptoms of a hernia to help prevent further complications.
Basic Hernia Symptoms3,4,5
Although hernias can be asymptomatic, symptoms commonly seen in people with hernias include:
Risk Factors for a Hernia6
Most hernias are caused by a combination of pressure and an opening or weakness of muscle or connective tissue. While muscle weakness may be present at birth, an increase in abdominal pressure or certain risk factors may make you more prone to developing hernias later in life. Examples include:
Is This Hernia Pain or Something Else?
There are several conditions that present with similar pain to a hernia. These include, but are not limited to those discussed below. Talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing any pain.
Common Hernia Locations
If you’re unsure what your symptoms are indicating, here are some common locations hernias can occur in:
The Common Types of Hernias Explained⁹
Other Less Common Types of Hernias
Strangulated or incarcerated hernias can be a medical emergency and typically require immediate medical attention. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.
How Is a Hernia Diagnosed?
A hernia is often diagnosed by clinical examination. Hernias typically appear as small lumps and look more pronounced when you cough or do strenuous exercise, such as lifting something heavy. To diagnose a hernia, your doctor will feel for a lump and may ask you to stand from a seated position. He or she may also ask you to cough to make the hernia bulge more prominent.
Your doctor may ask you to undergo an ultrasound or a CT scan to enable a more informed diagnosis.
Hernia Pain: Know When To Go to a Doctor¹²
Any hernia pain is worth a visit to your healthcare provider. It’s important to have a healthcare provider diagnose hernia pain, since many other conditions can be mistaken for a hernia. If your hernia changes color, goes numb, or causes symptoms like fever, nausea and vomiting, seek medical attention right away.
Hernia Treatment Options: Non-Surgical Treatment
Hernias will not heal on their own—surgery is required to repair a hernia. However, if your hernia is small, asymptomatic, and/or only bulges only occasionally, your healthcare provider may recommend taking a “watchful waiting” approach. During this period, you may be advised to closely observe the area for possible symptoms that could indicate a medical emergency. It is likely that your doctor may also observe and measure your hernia to ensure it doesn’t grow or become painful. Ultimately, the decision about your treatment should be made with your doctor based on your specific situation.
Hernia Treatment Options: Surgical Treatment¹³
Surgery is required in order to fully repair a hernia as they will not go away on their own. Hernias also tend to worsen over time which is why providers often recommend repairing them.¹⁰ The appropriate type of surgery for you may depend on the size, severity, and location of your hernia. Discuss with your doctor which option is right for you. There are three primary surgical options for hernia repair: open, laparoscopic, and robotic.
Open Surgery: As the traditional surgical method, an open surgical procedure involves making an incision over the area of the hernia. The hernia bulge is returned to its correct position and a mesh is often placed to help strengthen and support the weakened area before closing up the incision.
Laparoscopic Surgery: A surgeon typically uses several small, key-hole sized incisions during laparoscopic surgery. Instruments, such as a camera, are then inserted through the incisions to perform the operation.
Robotic Surgery: Similar to laparoscopic surgery, robotic surgery uses several smaller incisions. The surgeon performs the operation from a console located in the operating room.
Hernia Mesh Treatment
Most hernia repair surgeries are performed using a mesh. Hernia mesh is used to reinforce the weak spot in the abdominal wall where the hernia was located. Placing mesh over the hernia location provides support and creates a barrier that helps to prevent tissue from pushing through it. Most mesh is attached to the body using stitches, staples/tacks, or glue.
Types of Hernia Mesh¹²
Synthetic Mesh: Synthetic mesh is a permanent implant often made from synthetic plastic (e.g., polypropylene, polyester, or ePTFE). Synthetic meshes remain in your body to help provide long term reinforcement to the repair.
Biorabsorbable Mesh: Bioabsorbable mesh is an implant made of natural biomaterials. These meshes are designed to be absorbed by your body to help protect the repair
Always follow your doctor or hospital's pre-surgical instructions for what to do and expect after surgery. You may be required to:
Each patient will have a different postoperative recovery and activity level. In general, after surgery, patients typically experience pain or discomfort for some time. Some may feel tired and have less energy than usual. Recovery varies from person to person, but strenuous activity should be avoided for 4–6 weeks.¹² Ask your doctor what you may experience during your recovery and be sure to follow the wound care instructions exactly as prescribed by your doctor.
Should you have any questions or concerns regarding your recovery, do not hesitate to contact your doctor.
The guidance provided in this article follows general rules that should be discussed with your doctor. This article is for informational and educational purposes only. It does not substitute for medical advice. If in doubt, always consult your doctor.