Hernia Fact Sheet
What is a hernia?
A hernia (from the Latin word which means “rupture”) occurs when an organ bulges through the membrane that holds it in place.
What causes a hernia?
Hernias occur because of a tear or a weak spot in tissue surrounding an organ. They become more likely when a person strains to lift something heavy or otherwise puts stress on the muscle. Persistent coughing, obesity, and pregnancy might be contributing factors in developing a hernia.
The muscle and tendons of the abdominal wall from the ribs to the top of the legs form a corset that holds the intestines in place. Some places in this corset tend to be weaker than others, and those places are typical sites of hernias.
People might be born with hernias or born with weak areas that lead to hernias.
Types of hernias
- Inguinal, the most common type. It occurs in the inguinal canals in the groin area at the lower part of the abdomen. In men, the spermatic cords pass through the inguinal canals to the testicles. In women, the inguinal canals are narrower. Most inguinal hernias occur in men; most of those that occur in women result from a defect present since birth.
- Umbilical, around the belly button. This is a type of midline hernia, which can occur anywhere along the line from the belly button to the breast bone.
- Incisional, a protrusion through a scar
- Hiatal, in which the upper part of the stomach bulges into the chest through a small opening in the diaphragm. This makes it easier for stomach acid to come up into the esophagus.
A sports hernia can develop into a typical abdominal hernia, but it is usually a tear in the soft tissue of the lower abdomen or groin area.
Symptoms & diagnosis
Often, hernias do not hurt, at least initially. They become noticeable because of a bulge in the abdomen or groin area. The bulge might disappear when you lie down and get larger when you stand up.
It’s important to get hernias treated to prevent them from becoming strangulated. This occurs when the bowel protrudes through an abdominal opening and then is pinched off. Without blood flow, the section of dead intestine can release deadly toxins into the bloodstream.
The National Institutes of Health points out the signs of a strangulated hernia:
- Extreme tenderness or painful redness in the area of the bulge
- Sudden pain that worsens quickly and does not go away
- The inability to have a bowel movement and pass gas
- Nausea and vomiting
Hernias can be repaired with surgery involving stitches or mesh implanted in the abdominal wall. The surgery might involve an open incision, or it might be done through laparoscopy, in which a thin lighted tube is inserted through small incision.
British Hernia Centre: hernia.org
National Institutes of Health: medlineplus.gov/hernia.html