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Hernia: The Basics

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  • Hernia
  • Types of Hernias
  • Symptoms & Diagnosis
  • Causes and Risk Factors
  • Treatment
  • Surgery

What is a hernia?

A hernia occurs when tissue or part of an organ leaves the area in which it is supposed to be located and protrudes into a different area. Most commonly, it occurs when a portion of the intestines leaves the abdomen and enters the groin (the area between the abdomen and the thigh). Another example, hiatal hernia, occurs when part of the stomach enters the chest cavity.

Where can hernias occur?

Hernias can occur just about anywhere in the body, but occur most commonly in the back (herniated disc), abdomen (hiatal), belly button (umbilical), and groin (inguinal). A hernia is a condition in which a bit of tissue protrudes out of its normal area and into another area. An example is inguinal hernia, where a portion of the intestines or bowel can push into the inguinal canal in the groin.

How big can a hernia get?

Some hernias can get larger over time, but they should not progress further than their intruded space. For example, inguinal hernias can protrude into the scrotum, causing significant pain and impairment. Hiatal hernias can sometimes progress enough that the colon, spleen, pancreas, and small intestine may end up entering the incorrect area.

Can girls and women get hernias?

Yes, though it is much less likely in women than in men. Roughly 3% of women get some type of hernia in their lifetime, as opposed to 27% of men. Women and girls are more likely to develop a femoral hernia which has a much greater risk of dangerous complications. Femoral hernias generally require surgery.

Do women and girls have groins?

Yes. “Groin” simply refers to the area between the abdomen and the thigh. However, women are much less likely to develop inguinal hernias, which affect the groin. An inguinal hernia occurs when a portion of the intestine, bowel, or other tissue protrudes through the abdominal wall and enters the inguinal canal, a condition much more likely in men. Women are more likely to get femoral hernias.

How do I prevent hernias?

There are a number of things a person can do to try and prevent a hernia from developing. Properly warming up and stretching prior to exercising as well as exercising the core abdominal muscles can help to prevent hernia. Maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and consuming a high fiber diet are also known to help prevent the development of a variety of hernias.

Can you die from a hernia?

It is possible to die from a hernia but that is unlikely to happen in developed countries. The most common cause of death related to a hernia is from toxic infection, due to necrosis of dead tissue, which is the result of the tissue getting cut off from its blood supply. Certain types of hernia can cause other, potentially life-threatening complications.

Can a hernia burst?

A burst hernia is unlikely, but it can be a complication of a hernia that occurs as the result of a surgical incision. It is also possible with an inguinal hernia, but that is very rare. In any of these instances, the situation is life-threatening, and immediate medical treatment is necessary.

What shouldn’t I do if I have a hernia?

In virtually all types of hernia, it is advisable to avoid strain, vigorous physical activity, exercise, or heavy lifting. Coughing can cause an increase in pain for some types of hernia, so treating the source of the coughing could be helpful. Not straining during bowel movements is also important, so increasing the consumption of fiber can help with easing bowel movements.

Can I exercise with a hernia?

Depending on the specific type of hernia, you can engage in light exercise, usually swimming, walking, or stationary bicycling. Lifting or vigorous exercise can irritate the hernia and cause increased pain and risk for complications. Generally, if the exercise causes pain or discomfort, discontinue the activity.

Can I run when I have a hernia?

Running when you have a hernia is not advised, especially for spinal, incisional, or inguinal hernias. Walking is fine, but lifting and vigorous activity are likely to result in increased pain.

Can a hernia cause constipation?

In some instances, a herniated portion of the intestines can become pinched. This could result in pain, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. If left untreated, this can eventually result in a life-threatening infection or a perforated bowel, which requires immediate medical attention.

Can a hernia cause back pain?

Yes, if it is a spinal hernia where the material from a spinal disk protrudes into the spinal column. Spinal hernia symptoms vary from person to person, but generally result in lower back pain. A herniated disk will usually occur in the lower spine and the accompanying pain can radiate down into the legs. Muscle spasms and cramps are also common.

Can a hernia cause internal bleeding?

Internal bleeding is not the first symptom of a hernia, but it can be a severe complication for some types of hernias. A more common complication is that the protruding tissue will become strangulated, which occurs when the tissue gets cut off from its blood supply. Both strangulation and internal bleeding are life-threatening conditions which require immediate medical intervention.

What types of hernias are there?

There are roughly 20 different types of hernia, but the most common are: inguinal, incisional, umbilical and hiatal. All types of hernia are the result of tissue moving out of its normal space and into a different space. For example, umbilical hernia occurs when the intestine or bowel push out of the abdomen and into the belly button area.

What is a hiatal hernia?

A hiatal hernia occurs when the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. Symptoms of this type of hernia can include frequent acid reflux, GERD, laryngopharyngeal reflux, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. The most common risk factors for this type of hernia are obesity, old age, and scoliosis.

What are the symptoms of a hiatal hernia?

Hiatal hernia symptoms are frequently mistaken for other diseases or disorders. People with hiatal hernia may experience vague chest pains, infrequent shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and pain when eating. Heartburn and acid reflux are common, especially when lying down.

What is a hernia in the stomach?

A hernia involving the stomach moving into the chest cavity is called a hiatal hernia. Sometimes there are no symptoms with this type of hernia. However, common symptoms include acid reflux, GERD, chest pain and difficulty swallowing.

What is an inguinal hernia?

Inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia. It occurs when a portion of the intestines protrudes through the inguinal canal. General symptoms include pain, discomfort, and possibly a lump near the groin. These symptoms tend to get worse during the day, while coughing, during exercise, or while bearing down (for example, during a bowel movement). Symptoms may improve when lying down. Surgery is not always necessary, but the situation can become a medical emergency if the protruding organ gets cut off from its blood supply.

What is a hernia in the groin?

A hernia in the groin, also called an inguinal hernia, occurs when part of the intestines, bowel, or other tissue protrude from the abdominal cavity and into the inguinal canal. This is not always painful, but pain and discomfort when coughing/sneezing, bearing down, lifting a heavy weight or having a bowel movement is common. Surgery is not always necessary and is generally only suggested if there is pain, discomfort, or an elevated risk for complications.

What is an umbilical hernia?

An umbilical hernia happens when the intestine protrudes through the abdominal wall at the belly button. Infants are often born with an umbilical hernia, which may close on its own, often within a year. Umbilical hernias can also happen in adults, most often in women.

What is a femoral hernia?

A femoral hernia occurs when tissue protrudes into the femoral canal (where the femoral vein runs through the groin area) Femoral hernias sometimes, though not always, present as a bulge in the outer groin. This bulge may grow in size during the day and shrink somewhat while lying down. Pain is not always present. Surgery may not always be necessary. Women are much more likely than men to develop a femoral hernia.

What is an incisional hernia?

An incisional hernia means that tissue surrounding a surgical incision has protruded into the surgical incision site. This is a serious condition, and one should seek medical attention immediately.

What is a strangulated hernia?

“Strangulated” means that the herniated tissue has become cut off from its blood supply and is dying (becoming necrotic). This is a life-threatening situation and immediate medical attention is necessary.

How do I know if my hernia is strangulated?

Immediate pain at the site of the hernia is usually the first symptom. Nausea and vomiting are also common. Medical intervention is necessary as this is a potentially life-threatening condition.

How do you know if a hernia has ruptured?

A ruptured hernia is highly unlikely in most types of hernia, with the exception of incisional hernias. Pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and internal bleeding are all possible with a burst hernia. A ruptured hernia is a life-threatening emergency, requiring immediate medical attention and most likely surgery.

How do I know if I have a hernia?

Physical exams by a medical professional are generally done to diagnose most types of hernia. This allows the doctor to determine the location and severity of most types of hernia. X-rays or an endoscopy may be required to diagnose hiatal or spinal hernias.

How can I check myself for a hernia?

It can be difficult to assess yourself for a hernia, as not all hernias result in a visible bulge or other deformity. A doctor will generally perform a physical exam and an analysis of symptoms to diagnose most types of hernia. This will allow the doctor to determine the location and severity of the any hernia. X-rays or an endoscopy may be required to diagnose a hiatal or spinal hernia.

What are the symptoms of a hernia?

Hernia symptoms can be vague and diffuse, causing misdiagnosis. Most commonly, there is some pain and swelling at the site, and sometimes there is a visible lump. Depending on the particular kind of hernia, there may be other symptoms as well.

What are the first signs of a hernia?

The initial symptoms of a hernia include pain, swelling, redness in the affected area, weakness in the muscles around the affected area, and a burning or aching in the area. Depending on the specific type of hernia, there may or may not be a visible bulge. Surgery is not always necessary, depending on the particular type of hernia and the likelihood of dangerous complications.

Where does a hernia hurt?

There are several different types of hernias, and each type causes its own symptoms. Hernias are unlikely to cause generalized pain. Any pain felt will be in the location of the hernia. In some types of hernias, a bulge may be visible and the area could be red, warm, and swollen.

What doctor should I see for a hernia?

A primary care or family care doctor can do the initial diagnosis of a hernia, which sometimes requires an X-ray or other diagnostic scans. A surgeon will be necessary to completely treat a hernia, though surgery is not always necessary for all types of hernias. Surgery is only necessary if pain or discomfort are significant or if there is an elevated risk for complications.

What are the causes of a hernia?

Depending on the particular type of hernia, there can be a number of different risk factors. These may not directly cause the hernia but can increase the risk of having a hernia. The most common risk factors are: COPD or other conditions that cause chronic coughing, smoking, obesity, pregnancy, collagen disorders, surgeries, frequent heavy lifting, and family history.

What causes abdominal hernias?

Abdominal hernias are usually caused by a combination of abdominal wall muscle weakness and strain. Depending on their particular cause and other conditions, a hernia can develop quickly or very slowly. In some cases, an abdominal hernia can develop over months or even years.

What causes groin pain?

Groin pain can have various causes. If the groin pain is worsened when having a bowel movement, bearing down, coughing or sneezing, it could be caused by an inguinal hernia. This is when a portion of the intestines, bowel or other tissue pushes through the abdominal wall and moves into the inguinal canal.

What causes pain in the groin area of a female?

Pain in the groin area of a female could be due to various causes. One cause can be an inguinal hernia. Inguinal hernias are rare in women. They are only 4% as common as in men. Femoral hernias, however, are much more common in women than in men. Both can cause lumps in the groin area, along with pain and discomfort, especially when having a bowel movement, lifting, or bearing down.

Can I get a hernia from coughing?

A single cough is unlikely to result in a hernia, but frequent coughing, usually due to smoking or chronic lung conditions, is known to increase the risk for developing various types of hernia. Inguinal hernia is the most common type associated with coughing. This type of hernia occurs when a portion of abdominal tissue, intestine, or bowel protrudes through the abdominal wall and into the inguinal canal.

How can I relieve hernia pain?

Certain foods can irritate some types of hernias and cause pain. Hot, cold, or spicy foods tend to be the biggest culprits and should be avoided. Relaxing, taking warm baths, and not engaging in vigorous physical activities or exercises can also help to reduce pain. Pain medications are also an option. Consulting with a doctor can lead to recommendations for each specific type of hernia.

Can a hernia heal itself?

Hernias do not resolve on their own. However, not all hernias require surgery. Some hernias can progress to life-threatening conditions if the affected tissue is cut off from its blood supply. Many times, if surgery is necessary, it can be done laparoscopically.

What happens if a hernia is left untreated?

Sometimes, nothing. In other situations, untreated hernias can lead to life-threatening situations. Not all hernias require surgery. Surgery may only be necessary if the hernia is causing pain or other impairment. In some instances, life-threatening conditions can result, usually because the protruding tissue is cut off from its blood supply. In those instances, surgery becomes necessary immediately.

How do you treat a hernia?

Hernias do not repair themselves, and surgery is required to repair them. However, not all instances of hernia require surgery, especially if pain or discomfort is not present. Some hernias can become life threatening—if the protruding organ gets cut off from its blood supply, it would require immediate surgery.

What is involved with hernia surgery?

Depending on the specific type of hernia, the surgery may require only a local anesthetic and laparoscopic techniques. The surgery will generally involve moving the protruding tissue back into its appropriate cavity, installing a mesh to prevent re-protrusion and allowing the location to heal.

Is hernia surgery safe?

Most hernia surgeries, when performed by skilled and licensed surgeons, are quite safe. However, like all surgeries, there are risks including infection, further injury, and pain. In very rare situations, as with any surgery, death can occur. Laparoscopic surgery is common for many types of hernia surgery and some surgeries can even be done with a local anesthesia.

How long does hernia surgery take?

Different types of hernia surgery take various amounts of time, but most uncomplicated hernia surgeries should take 4 hours or less, if done using the laparoscopic method. Recovery times vary according to the particular type and location of surgery. Recovery time is further increased if general anesthesia was used.

How long does it take to recover from hernia surgery?

Most people can resume regular activities between 4 and 6 weeks after hernia surgery. If a person’s job does not require frequent manual labor or heavy lifting, normal work can resume after 1 to 2 weeks. This can vary, depending on the type of hernia. Recovery from spinal hernia surgery can take longer.

What can I expect after umbilical hernia surgery?

Following surgery, pain management is usually the highest priority for the recovering patient. Walking, usually 20 minutes a day or less, is known to help reduce pain and reduce the risk for complications. Avoid engaging in vigorous physical activities for 4 to 6 weeks. Avoid lifting anything heavier than 10 pounds. If your job does not involve manual labor, you can probably return in 2 or 3 days.

Is hernia surgery painful?

Many hernia surgeries can be done laparoscopically, which can result in far less pain than older methods. For most patients, there is some pain following surgery, but gentle exercises and reduced physical activity can help to mitigate the pain. Pain medication will usually also be prescribed.

Can a hernia come back after surgery?

Yes. The most common recurrent form of hernia is inguinal hernia. This type of hernia is caused when a portion of tissue, intestine, or bowel protrudes through the abdominal wall and into the inguinal canal. There is also a type of hernia associated with surgery called incisional hernia where tissue protrudes into the surgical incision site.

What can I eat after hernia surgery?

Depending on the particular type of hernia surgery, dietary changes may not always be necessary. For inguinal hernia, high fiber foods and plenty of fruits and vegetables can help ease intestinal discomfort.

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