It’s actually a common condition in which fatty tissue or an organ, typically the stomach or intestine, pushes through an opening or weakened spot in the muscle or connective tissue and ends up in an area it doesn’t belong. Hernias typically occur when unusual pressure meets the weak spot, such as when lifting heavy items. Anybody can get a hernia, but pregnancy, obesity, strenuous activity, poor nutrition, a persistent cough, and smoking can all increase your risk.
Types of Hernia
Hernias can occur in many different parts of the body, and the types of hernia depend on their location:
- Hiatal hernia. When the stomach bulges into the chest through the opening where the esophagus connects to the stomach, the result is a hiatal hernia. A sliding hernia – the most common type of hiatal hernia – occurs when both the stomach and the section of the esophagus that is connected to the hiatus slide up through the opening into the chest area. A paraesophageal hernia is less common, and is caused when part of the stomach squeezes through the hiatus and winds up next to the esophagus.
- Inguinal hernia. This is a hernia in the inner groin area where tissue, generally bladder or intestine, pushes through a weak spot in the groin muscle — causing a bulge in the groin or scrotum. Inguinal hernias account for 75% of abdominal wall groin hernias, and men are far more likely than women to get them because of a natural weakness in this area. This type of hernia can appear suddenly after lifting something heavy, coughing, bending, or straining, or they may form over a period of weeks or months. In addition to the presence of a round lump, symptoms may include swelling, burning, or tugging. Inguinal hernias will not heal on their own and require surgery, which is often minimally invasive and require sutures or sutures and a small amount of mesh to close the opening.
- Incisional hernia. This type of hernia is common and can occur at the site of a previous abdominal surgery that has failed to completely heal, generally one involving a vertical incision. These types of hernias can be large and painful, and occur in people who are overweight or elderly and are inactive after their surgery. They can happen months or even years after a surgery. If the hernia is small, it can be repaired similarly to an inguinal hernia — but larger incisional hernias may require some reconstruction of the abdominal wall.
- Femoral hernia. These are a more uncommon type of groin area hernia, causing a bulge in the groin or thigh. Women are more likely than men to suffer from this hernia and the exact causes aren’t always known, but generally are caused by a weakened spot in the femoral canal due to overstraining. Factors leading to overstraining include childbirth, chronic constipation, heavy lifting, or being overweight. Small or moderate-sized femoral hernias may not cause any symptoms or bulges, but larger hernias may cause discomfort.
- Umbilical hernia. These types of hernias most often affect newborns — some children may not get them until they’re a little older, however. It happens when intestine, fat, or fluid pushes through a weak spot in the muscles, causing a bulge near the belly button. Umbilical hernias aren’t usually painful or dangerous, and heals itself on its own without treatment.
Hernias can be very painful, and should never be ignored. If the tissue becomes trapped and loses its blood supply, the hernia can strangulate and become very dangerous. And if left untreated, hernias will usually get larger and more problematic over time. Most hernias can be repaired with an outpatient surgery using minimally invasive procedures, including robotic-assisted techniques.
While not all hernias can be prevented, some common-sense practices can lower their likelihood. Maintaining a healthy weight, warming up before activity, taking precautions when lifting heavy things, and strengthening abdominal muscles are recommended steps.
This article first appeared in the March 2018 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.