The word hernia means "something coming through." It is defined as a protrusion of an organ or part (such as the intestine) through connective tissue or through a wall of the cavity in which it is normally enclosed (such as the abdomen). There are multiple types and locations of hernias that you can develop.
It is not uncommon for someone to be born with a weakness in their abdominal wall. The weakness can also occur over time or due to a previous surgical incision. Pressure from organs or tissue pushing on the weakness can cause a hernia. Age, smoking and obesity can also contribute to weakened tissue.
Approximately five million Americans are diagnosed with a hernia every year.2 Men, women, and children of all ages can develop a hernia. Hernias in the groin area (inguinal hernias) are the most common hernia and are present predominantly in men, while hernias in the femoral area (at the top of the thigh) occur most often in women. Although some people are born with a hernia, others increase their risk for various reasons. Some people can also develop a hernia at the site of a previous surgical incision.
Yes. Children can be born with a hernia, oftentimes an umbilical hernia. They can be repaired by reducing the hernia and suturing the hole in the tissue back together.4 You should consult with your pediatrician if you have any questions about a child with a possible hernia.
Age, smoking and obesity are three of the primary risk factors for developing hernias. Other factors include: weak and/or injured muscles, previous surgical incisions, pregnancy, lifting and straining.
Typically, a hernia can be both seen and felt. However, some hernias show no symptoms at all. Oftentimes, you may notice it as a lump in your abdomen area or groin that disappears when you lay down or press on it. You may also feel a dull aching sensation that becomes more pronounced when you are active. The bulge may also get bigger over time. If you’re experiencing a hiatal hernia (in the chest), the symptoms may include heartburn, trouble swallowing, or even pain in the chest.
The discomfort you feel—especially when you cough, lift something heavy, or stand for a long time—comes from the constant pressure of tissue pushing its way through the weakened spot in your body. As more tissue pushes through the weakened area, the feeling of pressure increases. A hernia that develops or worsens quickly can produce a sudden intense pain as it enlarges.
A healthcare provider will evaluate your condition, typically with a physical examination. Imaging tests may also be ordered to help determine whether or not you have a hernia. Your physician will then refer you to consult with a surgeon.
The risk of developing a hernia can be minimized, but hernias cannot be prevented. In fact, certain types of hernias may be present at birth.
Although hernias cannot be prevented, it is possible to minimize the risk of developing a hernia through proper lifting techniques, maintaining a healthy body weight, increasing core strength, quitting smoking, and avoiding chronic coughing, sneezing, or straining.
A hernia will not get better on its own; surgery is necessary to repair a hernia. In some cases, a hernia may not get worse for months or even years. If your hernia can be easily pushed back in (meaning it is reducible), it is generally not an immediate danger to your health, although it can be painful. However, medical advice is always recommended, and a reducible hernia should be evaluated by your physician.
A non-reducible hernia, however, can become life threatening if part of the intestine gets trapped (incarcerated or strangulated) in the opening. This is dangerous because blood flow to the trapped tissue is restricted and can damage the tissue. Seek medical attention immediately.3
While only your physician can advise you, limiting activity or eliminating excess weight may provide temporary relief. Wearing a truss or binder may also offer temporary relief. The only cure, however, is surgery.
A hernia repair surgery can help prevent or correct a dangerous strangulated hernia and eliminate the pain or discomfort that may be limiting your daily activities. Although there are always risks and side effects associated with surgery, today's surgical techniques provide patients with treatment options that offer minimal postoperative discomfort, speedy recovery and lasting relief.
There are many options for your hernia repair that you should discuss with your doctor. The first choice relates to the surgical approach. Hernias can be repaired through open surgery, laparoscopic repair, or robotic repair.
The next choice relates to whether your surgeon will use mesh, and if so, the kind of mesh that is used in the surgery. There are three main types of mesh that can be used: synthetic mesh, bioresorbable mesh, and biologic grafts.
Talk to your doctor about your options to help make the right choice for you.
Whether you should have surgery is a question only your physician can help you answer. Your physician can tell you more about your condition and treatment options. There is no need to suffer in silence due to fears of surgery and pain. Your doctor is there to help and offer simple and innovative options to help you feel better.
Since hernia surgery is, for the most part, an outpatient procedure, most patients are able to go home anywhere from one to two hours after surgery with a list of restrictions your healthcare provider will provide. However, some patients may require hospitalization.
The recurrence rates vary by type of hernia, complexity, risk factors and technique selection. Mesh-based repairs have been shown to provide the lowest recurrence rates.5