A hernia is a small sac containing abdominal tissue which protrudes through an opening in the muscles of the abdominal wall. This opening can be a result of congenital defect (an opening which you were born with) or may be an acquired flaw due to stress on the abdominal muscles.
Hernias most often occur in or near the groin, abdomen, navel or previous sites of abdominal surgery. Left untreated, a hernia will generally increase in size and become more painful. It can lead to more serious, life-threatening complications.
Any part of the abdominal wall can develop a hernia, however, the most common site is in the groin area (inguinal hernia). With an inguinal hernia, the sac protrudes into the groin and sometimes the scrotum. Ventral hernias occur in the abdominal wall and some types include umbilical, epigastric and incisional hernias. Umbilical hernias occur through the naval area, femoral hernias occur in the lower groin area and incisional hernias occur through old surgical scars.
There are many different types of hernias:
- An abdominal wall hernia is a weakness or tear in the abdominal muscles that allows fatty tissue or an organ (such as the intestines) to protrude through the weak area. Although more common in men a hernia can develop in anyone - from a newborn baby to older adults.
- An inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia, affecting about 2% of men in the U.S. Men are more susceptible to this type of hernia because of a potentially weak spot in the groin (known as the "internal ring").
- A ventral hernia occurs in a weakened area of the abdominal wall.
- An epigastrichernia occurs as a result of a weakness in the muscles of the upper-middle abdomen (above the navel). Three times more men than women develop epigastric hernias with the majority occurring in people between the ages of 20 and 50.
- A femoral hernia, which occurs in the area between the abdomen and the thigh, is usually the result of pregnancy and childbirth and is more common among women.
- An incisional hernia can occur at the site of an incision from a previous surgery when fat or tissue pushes through a weakness created by a surgical scar. These can develop weeks, months or years after the initial surgery.
- An umbilical hernia can occur in the naturally weakened area of the navel where the umbilical cord was attached and the tissue is thinner than the rest of the abdomen. Umbilical hernias can occur in babies, children and adults.
- Lifting heavy objects
- Sudden twists, pulls or muscle strain
- Chronic straining with urination
- Chronic constipation
- Repeated coughing attacks
Other risk factors for developing a hernia include: a chronic cough, obesity, pregnancy, and persistent sneezing.
You may experience any of the following symptoms:
- A noticeable protrusion in the groin or abdominal area
- Feeling pain while lifting
- A dull aching sensation
- A vague feeling of fullness
Hernias which are reducible, (can be pushed in) are not generally an urgent danger to your health, though they can be painful. A non-reducible hernia (can't be pushed in) can become life-threatening if any part of the intestine becomes trapped in the hernia opening. This might require emergency surgery.
Untreated hernias will often get larger and more difficult to treat over time. Your physician will recommend the urgency of surgery. If the bowel becomes trapped in the hernia, Emergency surgery may be necessary. Hernias have a continued risk of bowel entrapment until they are repaired.