You’ve likely heard of a hernia before and probably 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 of hernias that affect different parts of your body. They have similarities, but the symptoms may be different. Knowing what to look for can help you recognize when you may have a hernia yourself.
A hernia happens when an internal organ or body part pushes through the muscle or tissue wall that normally surrounds it. They appear most commonly in the abdominal cavity, between the chest and the hips. The most common types of hernias include:
- Inguinal hernia: The most common type of hernia, inguinal hernias occur when fatty tissue or part of the intestine pushes through to the groin. Inguinal hernias affect more men than women.
- Femoral hernia: Like inguinal hernias, femoral hernias are a result of the intestine protruding into the groin. Older women are most likely to suffer from this type of hernia.
- Umbilical hernia: In the case of umbilical hernias, fatty tissue or part of the intestine pokes through the abdomen by the belly button.
- Hiatal (or hiatus) hernia: Hiatal hernias occur when part of the stomach pushes into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm.
Inguinal and femoral hernias make up almost 80 percent of all hernia cases, though 10-20 percent of all newborns are affected by umbilical hernias.
How Can You Tell If You Have a Hernia?
The most noticeable symptom is a lump or a bulge in the abdomen, groin, or scrotum. The lump often becomes more prominent after laughing, coughing, a bowel movement, or exercise. Other common symptoms include:
- Weakness, pressure, or pain in the abdomen, groin, or scrotum
- Increase in the lump’s size
- An aching sensation
- Constipation or bloody stool
- Discomfort when lifting or bending over
It’s important to note that the symptoms of a hiatal hernia vary slightly. There is no lump or bulge, but rather heartburn, indigestion, and chest pain. If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor for more information.
How are hernias treated?
Hernias can be treated with two types of surgery. The first type is called an open surgery, where the surgeon makes a cut that allows them to push the lump back into the abdomen. The other is laparoscopic or “keyhole surgery,” which involves using very small incisions and surgical tools to repair the hernia.
Fortunately, hernia repair is one of the most common surgeries in the United States and requires only limited recovery time.
What if my hernia is not treated?
Without proper treatment, a hernia can grow and become more painful over time. An untreated inguinal or femoral hernia may also become “incarcerated” or even “strangulated,” which can put you at risk for serious health complications.
When a hernia is incarcerated, it becomes trapped in the abdominal wall. Once the blood flow to the trapped tissue stops, the hernia becomes strangulated. Strangulated hernias can cause vomiting, fever, sudden pain, and, in rare cases, death.
Hernias are a common condition that won’t complicate your life for long if properly treated. Talk to you doctor if you’re concerned you may have one to determine the best treatment for you.