What is a hernia?
A hernia is the result of an organ or fatty tissue squeezing through a weak spot in a surrounding muscle or connective tissue (i.e., fascia). There are several areas of the body that a hernia can occur, leading to many different types. Some of the most common are:
- Inguinal hernia: Occurs at the inner groin and more commonly affects men
- Incisional hernia: Results from an incision and commonly occurs in elderly or overweight patients who are inactive after abdominal surgery
- Femoral hernia: Occurs at the outer groin and are common in women, in particular in obese and pregnant women
- Umbilical hernia: Refers to a hernia of the belly button that are common in newborn babies, obese women, or women who have had many children
- Hiatal hernia: Occurs at the upper stomach as it squeezes through the hiatus
What causes hernias?
All hernias are ultimately caused by pressure on an opening or weakness of a muscle or fascia. The pressure pushes against the organ or tissue, or through the opening or weak spot. Any activity that increases pressure on the abdomen can induce a hernia, such as:
- Lifting heavy objects without stabilizing the abdominal muscles
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Persistent coughing or sneezing
Other non-pressure related risks of weakened muscles include smoking, obesity, and poor nutrition.
How do I know if I have a hernia?
If you have a hernia, you will experience and notice certain symptoms. The most common sign will be a lump or bulge in the affected area. Symptoms of an inguinal hernia include:
- Pain or discomfort in the affected area: Especially when bending over, coughing, or lifting
- Weakness, pressure, or a heavy feeling in the abdomen
- Burning, aching, or gurgling at the site of the bulge or lump
Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:
- Acid reflux
- Chest pain
- Difficulty swallowing
See your doctor immediately if you’re experiencing these symptoms.
What are treatment options for a hernia?
As the severity of hernias vary, so do treatment options. Your doctor’s assessment for treatment methods will include:
- Lifestyle changes: Mainly dietary changes
- Surgery in severe cases: Or if all other methods have been unsuccessful