Hernia: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment


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What is a hernia?

A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body, such as an organ or any fatty tissue, pushes or spills out through a weak spot in a surrounding muscle or tissue wall. There are many types of hernias.

The most common types of hernia include:

  • Inguinal hernia (inner groin): This is the most common type of hernia, especially among men,  and occurs when the intestines push through a weak spot or tear in the lower abdominal wall, often in the inguinal canal. This type of hernia is associated with ageing and occurs if the abdomen is repeatedly strained.
    In men, the inguinal canal area is where the spermatic cord passes from the abdomen to the scrotum. This cord holds up the testicles.
    In women, the inguinal canal contains a ligament that holds the uterus in position.
  • Incisional hernia (resulting from an incision): This condition may occur to some people who have undergone abdominal surgery. The intestines may push through the incision scar or the surrounding, weak tissue.
  • Femoral hernia (outer groin), umbilical (belly button): This condition tends to occur more in women than men. It occurs when fatty tissue or a part of your bowel spills through into your groin at the top of your inner thigh. Like inguinal hernia this type of hernia is associated with ageing, and occurs due to repeated strain on the abdomen.
  • Hiatal hernia (upper stomach): This condition is most common in people over 50 years of age and occurs when part of the stomach protrudes up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. Hiatal hernias can cause gastroesophageal reflux, which is when the stomach contents leak back into the esophagus, causing a burning sensation in the heart.
  • Umbilical hernia: This type of hernia occurs when fatty tissue or a part of the bowel pokes through the abdomen near the belly button.

This condition can occur in infants if the opening in the abdomen through which the umbilical cord passes does not seal properly after birth.
Adults are affected by this condition if there is repeated strain on the abdomen.

A few other less common types of hernias are epigastric hernias, spigelian hernias, and diaphragmatic hernias, muscle hernias

How does a hernia occur?

Hernias are usually caused by a combination of:

  1. Weakness in the muscles or connective tissues, caused by a disturbance or interruption in the body’s natural cycle of tissue breakdown and repair.
  2. Increased pressure or strain in the weak muscles or connective tissues.

Hernias overall can be divided into two categories:

  • Congenital – This type can develop even before birth, though, it may not be diagnosed for weeks, months, or even years. This hernia which develops much later in life may actually be the result of a weakness that you have had since you were an infant.
  • Acquired – This type occurs when the muscles or connective tissue in your abdomen become weak due to pressure or are damaged due to any injury as you grow older.

As you age your body is constantly involved in a balanced cycle of building up and breaking down muscles and tissue. With age, the enzymes that control this process can get out of balance. When your body cannot balance the build and repair cycle effectively, the muscles and tissue, especially in the groin area may become weak.

Common factors which can lead to weakened muscles include:

  • poor nutrition
  • advanced age
  • lack of exercise
  • leading a sedentary life
  • obesity
  • heavy smoking
  • drinking alcohol heavily
  • injuries
  • medical operations

Once your abdominal wall becomes weak, anything that puts pressure on or strains those weak spots, like:

  • chronic coughing
  • vomiting
  • heavy lifting
  • damage due to surgery

can cause a hernia to develop.

The extra pressure forces fatty tissue or, in some cases, part of the intestine through a weak spot, creating a bulge that you may be able to see and feel under your skin.

As already mentioned above, there are various types of hernias based on where it occurs in the body.

Depending on its cause, a hernia can develop quickly or over a long period of time.

Who is prone to a hernia?

Anyone can develop a hernia – at any age, whether the person is physically active or not.
You are at a higher risk of a hernia if you:

  • are a man, since men have a natural weakness in the groin area.
  • are above 35  years, because as we age, our muscles and tissues naturally become weaker
  • are born with a weakness in the muscles of the abdomen
  • have close family relatives with hernias
  • strain yourself by lifting heavy objects, especially, if it is sudden and you are not used to lifting heavy objects
  • are overweight or obese, since that can strain your abdominal muscles
  • suffer from heavy or chronic cough
  • are frequently constipated and strain while having a bowel movement
  • suffer from an accident or injury that tears the muscles or connective tissue in your abdomen
  • are a heavy smoker, which can affect the body’s ability to produce enzymes which promote cell creation and growth.

What are the causes of a hernia?

Common causes of muscle weakness which can ultimately lead to hernia include:

  • failure of the abdominal wall to close properly in the womb, which is a congenital defect
  • advanced age
  • chronic coughing
  • damage from injury or surgery

Factors that strain your body and may cause a hernia, especially if your muscles are weak, include:

  • being pregnant, which puts pressure on your abdomen
  • surgery which can weaken muscles
  • fluid in the abdomen
  • being constipated, causing you to strain while having a bowel movement
  • lifting heavy weights
  • obesity or sudden weight gain
  • persistent coughing or sneezing

What are the symptoms of a hernia? How is a hernia diagnosed?

The common symptoms of inguinal, femoral, umbilical, and incisional hernias, include:

  • a prominent swelling beneath the skin of the abdomen or the groin which can disappear when you lie down. It may feel tender or sore.
  • a feeling of heavyweight in the abdomen which is at times accompanied by constipation or blood in the stool.
  • discomfort in the abdomen or groin when coughing, lifting a weight or bending over.

Symptoms of a hiatal hernia may include

  • heartburn
  • upper abdominal pain

If your baby suffers from a hernia, you may only be able to feel the bulge when their crying, which is the only symptom of an umbilical hernia in infants.

Symptoms of a hiatal hernia include:

  • acid reflux, which is when stomach acid moves backwards into the oesophagus causing a burning sensation
  • chest pain
  • difficulty in swallowing

Some people may not have visible symptoms of a hernia. In that case, it might show up during a routine medical exam or a physical exam for some other medical issue.


Diagnosis


At the outset, your doctor will ask for your medical history and then perform a physical examination to touch or feel a hernia. You may be asked to cough, bend, push, or lift. A hernia may get bigger when you do this.

In infants or children though, the hernia may not be easily seen, except when the child is crying or coughing.

The doctor may ask you to undergo Ultrasound or CT scans to look for a hernia.

If you may have a blockage in your bowel, you will be asked to take an x-ray of the abdomen.

What are the complications of a hernia?

In rare cases, inguinal hernia repair can damage structures involved in the function of a man's testicles.

Another risk of hernia surgery is nerve damage, which can lead to numbness in the groin area.

If a part of your bowel was trapped or strangulated before surgery, it may lead to a bowel perforation or dead bowel.

  • Strangulation: Pressure placed on the hernial contents may compromise the blood supply to a section of an organ or tissue, leading to ischemia, cell death, and even gangrene. A strangulated hernia is life-threatening and requires immediate surgery.
  • Obstruction: When part of the gut herniates, the bowel contents may no longer be able to pass through the herniated area, leading to cramps, the absence of defecation and vomiting.

What is the treatment of a hernia?

Surgery is the only treatment for a hernia. Surgery may be more risky for patients with serious medical problems though.

The weakened abdominal wall tissue can be secured with surgery and also holes can be closed.

Surgery can be open or with the help of a laparoscope. Laparoscopic surgery has the advantages of smaller surgical cuts, faster recovery, and less pain after the procedure.

Would you like to consult a doctor for Hernia ?

Patient Experiences

Lokesh
Surgery for Hernia
My grandmother was admitted with severe abdominal pain & vomiting. In the first assesment itself he diagnosed her with starngulated incisional hernia. He said he has to operate with in 6 hrs to have best chance of saving her. We were intially reluctant for surgery at such a old age. He patiently explanied the need to do surgery urgently. He showed picture of her intestine which was struck in the hernia and explaned if we daelayed ofr another day the whole bowel would have been gangrenous meaning bigger & complicated surgery. Glad we decided to operate as she was home with in 3 days. ...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Maruthesh Gowda
Koshys Hospital
Saipranav
Successful Treatment for Hernia
The best person ever!! He is simply awesome!!\nMy mother was suffering from hernia we went to yashoda for the surgery I can only tell that It was by god grace we visited dr.partha for treatment. He suggested us for bariatrics surgery which was done so excellenty.he has become a family member to us. Ulmost care was taken by him and staff. The best surgerian I had ever seen. He is simply a awesome one.!! Just trust him he will be there for you any time!! Thank you thank you thank you so much DR.Partha garu *** ** *** ******...Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Parthasarathy G
Yashoda Hospital
Veeresh
Umbilical Hernia Repair
I Mrs kalpavalli visited Yashoda hospital somajiguda for getting my embilical herniia repair done My HT 149cm Wt 90 kg(very high BMI) And uncontrolled diabetes inspite of 40 units of insulin We met Dr G Parthasarathi Garu and explained to us about the illeffects of obesity and the benefits of weight loss i e helping in lowering down the depression levels Type2 diabetes management and many more He advised us to go for Bariatric surgery I have undergone the Bariatric surgery The surgery went on very well Each and every minute aspect utmost care was taken by him I have lost 15 kgs of weight within 40 days of surgery Now my body is very flexible easy to move easy to walk My diabetes also is coming into control without insulin I moved from "RISKY ZONE" TO "SAFEST ZONE" WITH "PARTHAS GRACE" I,thank Dr G Parthasarathi Garu, Very very much for gifting me such a wonderful life. I,Strongly recommend Dr G Parthasarathi Garu, a highly professional surgeon for surgeries....Read Less
Doctor in this story :Dr. Parthasarathy G
Yashoda Hospital

Questions answered by trusted doctors

Verified User
Is hernia is cureable without operation ?? Can a hernia go to gym without getting it operated??
Dr. Rashmi T V
General Physician, Bangalore
Hi Complete cure for hernia without correction is less likely... You can just prevent further progress by supportive or prophylactic steps...
Verified User
Dear Sir/Madam,

My mother is aged 52 and we have done umbilical hernia before 2 years and also she had stomach pain and we have taken ubdoman scan in which they state like incisional hernia 5.3 is found...
Pls give some suggestions whether we need to do the surgery again.
Also we took blood test in which one of the test saying like ESR level is 38 mm/hr...
It's normal or
abnormal...Pls suggest...
Dr. Rajesh Kumar Pradhan
Gastroenterologist, Delhi
Most likEly need surgery again
Ask health queries and get free answers from doctors in 24 hrs

Did you know?

Inguinal hernia is the most common

Approximately 75% of all hernias occur in the groin and is the most common general surgical disease. About 25% of males and 2% of females in India develop inguinal hernias.

Hernia more common in people of advanced age

Hernia mostly occurs in people who are over 50 years of age.

Children usually suffer from abdominal wall hernia

Between 10% and 30% of children have an abdominal wall hernia (umbilical hernia); most hernias of this type close spontaneously by age 1 year.

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Home Remedies

Castor Seed Oil

Castor seed oil can coat the stomach in a thin lining, thus preventing inflammation and encouraging proper digestion. You can prepare a castor seed oil pack and place it on the stomach to soothe the painful symptoms of a hernia.

Lose Weight

Eat smaller meals which will put less pressure on the stomach. One of the major reasons of hernia is suddenly putting on weight or obesity. If you lose weight your symptoms of hernia will disappear.

Alter Your Diet

Certain foods should be specifically avoided if you wish to prevent or treat a hernia. Avoid spicy foods, acidic foods and those that are difficult to digest should be avoided if you are at high risk for a hernia or already have one. These foods can inflame the stomach lining and cause hernia or slow down the healing process.

Cut Back on Exercise

Exercise caution while lifting weights, if you have experienced a hernia in the past. If you commonly engage in heavy exercise, change to easier workouts which will hasten your healing from gernia.

Keep Yourself Hydrated

Drink enough fluids and eat enough fiber to ensure smooth bowel movements.

Ice pack

Applying an ice pack directly to the area affected by hernia can reduce inflammation and provide relief from pain and bloating associated with a hernia.

Vegetable Juice

One of the most effective remedies for a hernia is a glass of vegetable juice, particularly one made with carrots, spinach, onions, broccoli and kale. The anti-inflammatory nature of vegetables can soothe the burning and painful symptoms of hernias, and hasten the healing process.
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