Do you think you may have a hernia?

Learn about the likely symptoms and risk factors that may lead to a hernia and the different types of hernias.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is when an organ (such as an intestine) protrudes through a hole in muscle or tissue. They are most noticeable when coughing, lifting, or rising from a sitting to a standing position and typically do not cause a sharp pain. 

A Comprehensive Guide to Hernias

Hernia Bulge Illustration
Hernia Signs and Symptoms
  • Is there an unknown bulge in your abdomen or groin area? 
  • Do you have discomfort in your abdomen or groin when you bend or lift something? 
  • Do you suffer from acid reflux, difficulty swallowing or regurgitation? 

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may want to consult a health care professional about a possible hernia

See Hernia Signs & Symptoms Checklist


Some people have a genetic predisposition for weaker connective tissue than the general population, leading to a higher likelihood of hernia development.1

Approximately 25% of all males will develop an inguinal hernia during their lifetimes, compared to 2% of women.2

Obesity creates more pressure in the abdomen. As pressure increases, so does the risk of hernia formation, particularly if a previous abdominal surgery has taken place.1

Pregnancy, particularly undergoing labor, increases pressure throughout the body and in the abdomen. Women who have undergone labor are more likely to have hernias than those who have not.1

Repetitive weightlifting exercises or jobs that require frequent lifting of heavy materials can increase pressure in the abdomen. Over time, these activities can lead to a hernia formation.1

Coughing increases pressure in the abdomen. The presence of a persistent cough over a long period of time from illnesses like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can lead to hernia formation.1,3

A history of smoking can lead to increased likelihood of developing inguinal or incisional hernias.4

Types of Hernias

There are multiple types of hernias that can be present in different parts of the body. Learn about the types of hernias to see which may apply to you.

Ventral (Abdomen):

A ventral hernia is an umbrella term for hernias that occur along the vertical midline of your abdomen that can be broken down into umbilical (near the belly button), incisional (near the site of a scar from a previous surgery), and hiatal (near the diaphragm) hernias.

A ventral hernia occurs when a sac or pouch forms from the inner lining of the abdomen that pushes abdominal content, such as bowel, through a hole in the abdominal wall.7


Learn More About Hiatal Hernias

Umbilical (Navel):

Umbilical hernias are a type of ventral hernia that occur from strain over time and are common in infants.3 A loop of intestine can move through an opening in the navel area, creating a hernia that typically looks like a golf ball.


Learn More About Umbilical Hernias

Hiatal (Diaphragm):

A hiatal hernia occurs when a portion of the stomach protrudes up through the diaphragm into the chest. They are often accompanied by gastroesophageal reflux, which results when the stomach contents leak upwards into the esophagus.5 Hiatal hernias affect around 20% of people in the U.S. and 50% of people 50 years of age or older.6


Learn More About Hiatal Hernias

Inguinal (Groin):

Inguinal hernias are the most common form of hernias; they affect around 25% of all men or people assigned male at birth.6 There are two types – indirect and direct. Indirect inguinal hernias are congenital defects through which abdominal contents protrude into the spermatic cord in males. Direct inguinal hernias are more common in adult males and usually occur due to weakness in the abdominal wall that develops over time or are due to straining or heavy lifting.9,10


Learn More About Inguinal Hernias

Femoral (Thigh):

A femoral hernia occurs in the upper part of the thigh near the groin. There is a natural space called the femoral canal where abdominal contents can protrude. Femoral hernias tend to occur more often in women than in men.3


Learn More About Femoral Hernias

Situational Hernias

These below types of hernias may develop due to situational factors:

Strangulated Hernias

In some instances, a hernia may become strangulated (or incarcerated), which means the abdominal content is trapped and can no longer be pushed back into its natural place. Hernias may also become strangulated, where the blood flow is cut off, causing severe pain; nausea or vomiting may also develop. If this occurs, seek immediate medical attention.11

People who have strangulated hernias may experience the following symptoms:

  • A sudden onset of pain that intensifies quickly
  • Bulge turns red, purple, or dark in color
  • Nausea or involuntary vomiting
  • Bloody stool 
  • Tenderness at the site of the bulge/hernia 
  • Fever 
  • Fatigue

Hernia Pain: Know When to See a Doctor

Congenital Hernias

Congenital hernias occur when there is a disruption in the formation of the diaphragm and a hole forms during a fetus’s development in the womb, which can result in organs (like the bowel, stomach, or liver) moving into the chest cavity and can cause respiratory complications.12

Congenital hernias occur in about 15% of newborns, mostly in the umbilical/navel area.6

Hernia Pain: Know When to See a Doctor

Incisional Hernias

After abdominal surgery, approximately 1 in 3 patients develop an incisional hernia. These hernias result from a weakening of the abdominal muscle due to a surgical incision and often to occur three to six months post-surgery but can happen at any time.13

Incisional hernias make up about 10% of hernias.6 Here are some common risk factors:

  • Excessive or premature physical activity after surgery 
  • Gaining considerable weight
  • Becoming pregnant 
  • Increased abdominal pressure in any other way before the incision is fully healed


Learn more about Incisional Hernias

How is a hernia diagnosed?
How is a hernia diagnosed?

A health care provider typically bases the diagnosis of a hernia on a physical examination, depending on the hernia type. While standing, a patient may be asked to cough, which increases pressure inside the abdominal cavity, and the hernia may bulge outward. Your health care provider may be able to see or feel it and try to make it go back in to determine how serious it is.

Sometimes ultrasounds or CT scans are also used to assist in making a hernia diagnosis.

Prepare for a discussion with your healthcare provider.

Here are some common questions about hernias and hernia repair to help you start the conversation: 

  • Are my symptoms due to a hernia or something else?
  • What type of hernia do I have?
  • Do I need surgery to repair my hernia?
  • How soon would I need surgery?
  • Are there any symptoms I should look out for that may indicate an emergency?

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