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Hernias: What Are They and How Are They Treated?


If you’ve heard of a hernia, you may think you get it from lifting heavy objects. While that’s partly true, hernias aren’t quite that simple. Anyone can experience a hernia – even newborn babies – and there are a variety of types that affect different parts of your body. Knowing what to look for can help you recognize when you may have a hernia.

What is a Hernia?

While there are many different types of hernias, all happen in a similar way. When there is a weak spot in a muscle surrounding an organ, the organ or fatty tissue can squeeze through this weakened area. All hernias are caused by a combination of pressure and a weakness or opening in a muscle. This muscle weakness can start at birth or happen later in life.

“Hernias are common and can affect men, women, and children. Most hernias occur in the abdomen,” says Patrick Elliott, D.O., general surgeon for the Crozer Health Comprehensive Hernia Program. “Hernia repair surgeries are frequent in general surgery.” 

“Some people are born with certain weak muscles,” explained Dr. Elliott. “Others develop conditions or habits that can also weaken muscles. Obesity, poor nutrition or smoking can raise your risk for hernia.” He noted that lifting heavy objects, diarrhea, constipation, or persistent coughing or sneezing can also cause a hernia. 

How Can You Tell if You Have a Hernia?

“Symptoms of hernia include an obvious swelling of the skin in the abdomen or groin area, constipation or bloody stool with a heavy feeling in the stomach, or discomfort in the abdomen or groin when lifting something or bending over,” Dr. Elliott says.

If you think you have a hernia, call your doctor. If you also have pain or nausea, or are unable to pass gas or a bowel movement, seek medical attention immediately.

How are Hernias Treated?

Without proper treatment, a hernia can grow and become more painful over time, and can put you at risk for serious health complications. 

“Standard treatment for most hernias is repair surgery. In a hernia repair surgery, the herniated tissue is repositioned and, if an organ is strangulated, the oxygen-starved area is removed,” Dr. Elliott says. “The damaged tissue is then often replaced with synthetic tissue or mesh.”

Fortunately, hernia repair is one of the most common surgeries in the United States and requires only limited recovery time. More than one million hernia repairs are performed each year in the U.S.  Learn more about hernia care at Crozer Health.

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned you may have a hernia to determine what the best treatment is for you.