Under pressure: what you need to know about hernias

March 26, 2018 | by Sivakami Krishnan, MD
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

What is that lump you see on your abdomen?

It could be a hernia.

A hernia is "the protrusion of an organ, organic part, or other bodily structure through the wall that usually contains it."

Hernias aren’t always apparent at first. They may hurt, you may even see the hernia bulge under your skin. If it’s small, you might not know it’s there. It’s most common in the abdomen, but hernias can also appear in the upper thigh and groin areas.

Most hernias happen because a muscle wall is not fully formed or is weak, a condition a person is born with. Other factors may increase your risk for developing a hernia, including pregnancy, being overweight, chronic coughing or sneezing, heavy lifting or straining, and constipation.

There are a number of different hernias:

  • Inguinal hernia: This is the most common type of hernia, and affects men more often than women. It occurs when the intestines push through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall or into the inguinal canal in the groin.
  • Femoral hernia: Fatty tissue or part of the intestine protrudes into the groin at the top of the inner thigh. Femoral hernias are sometimes mistaken for inguinal hernias but are less common and affect mainly older women.
  • Hiatal hernia: Part of the stomach pushes up into the chest cavity through an opening in the diaphragm. This type of hernia in the upper stomach is most common in people over 50 years old and often causes gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Umbilical hernia: This can occur in babies under 6 months old, but may go away by the time the child is a few years old. Fatty tissue or part of the intestine pushes through the abdominal wall near the belly button, where you may notice a bulge, especially when your child cries.
  • Incisional hernia: This can occur after you’ve had abdominal surgery. Tissue protrudes through the site of an abdominal scar (the incision site).
  • Epigastric hernia: Fatty tissue protrudes through the abdominal area between the belly button and lower part of the breastbone. These hernias are often painless and unable to be pushed back into the abdomen when first discovered.
  • Spigelian hernia: The intestine pushes through the abdomen at the side of the abdominal muscle, below the belly button. This is a rare hernia.
  • Diaphragmatic hernia: This is usually a birth defect in which organs in the abdomen move into the chest through an abnormal opening in the diaphragm.
  • Obturator hernia: This is an extremely rare hernia that develops mostly in women. It protrudes through an opening in the pelvic bone. It won’t show a visible bulge but can cause nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms of a hernia can include painful swelling or a bulge that you can push back in. You may feel pain while lifting, straining, bending, stretching, or coughing, or a dull aching feeling at the site. A hiatal hernia likely wouldn’t cause a visible bulge but could make it hard to swallow and cause heartburn, indigestion and regurgitation.

Most of the time hernias aren’t extremely painful until they become strangulated, or the opening tightens around the protruding organ.

It isn’t always easy for your doctor to pinpoint what’s causing the pain, so in some cases an ultrasound or X-rays may be necessary to make a diagnosis.

Once diagnosed, your doctor can determine the best way to treat the hernia. In many cases, surgery is necessary to repair the organ.

With the minimally invasive surgical options offered at Edward-Elmhurst, surgery doesn’t have to be a pain. Learn more about our minimally-invasive hernia repair.

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