Health

Hernia: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments, and Prevention

Evidence Based Article 📄
This article has been based on relevant and up-to-date scientific studies. Our writers are unbiased and objective and present the facts as they are known. Numbers in brackets within the article refer to sources included in the reference list at the end of the article.

New health issues occur every hour and sometimes even doctors have trouble setting a diagnosis. Although a hernia isn’t a new illness, more and more people suffer from it these days.

It’s the abnormal exit of an organ or tissue through the cavity’s wall in which it resides. Hernia is usually pain-free and doesn’t have harsh symptoms, but in some cases pain and discomfort are present.

Hernia occurs mostly in the abdomen area, albeit it can also appear in the groin areas, belly button, and upper thigh. There are a few types of a hernia and only some are immediately life-threatening. All types of a hernia don’t disappear on their own so they often require surgery.

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Below is everything you need to know about a hernia, its causes, symptoms, and how you can ward it off.

4 Most Common Types of Hernia

There are many types of a hernia, but the most common ones include:

Inguinal hernia

The most common type of a hernia, an inguinal hernia makes up around 70 percent of all hernias, as stated by the British Hernia Centre (BHC). Inguinal hernia occurs when the intestines tear or push through a weak spot in the lower abdominal wall, typically in the inguinal canal that’s found in the groin.

In females, this canal has a ligament that aids in holding the uterus in place. In males, an inguinal canal locates in the area where the spermatic cord – that aids in holding up the testicles – passes from the abdomen area to the scrotum. Men are more prone to an inguinal hernia than women because their testicles go down through the inguinal canal soon after birth. Even though the canal must close behind the testicles, sometimes it doesn’t close, leaving an unprotected area prone to a hernia.

Umbilical hernia

This type of a hernia is more common among babies under 6 months and toddlers. This occurs when the child’s intestines start bulging through the abdominal wall near the navel. Unlike other hernias, umbilical one may not require surgery as it tends to disappear on its own when the muscles of the abdominal wall get stronger, usually when the child reaches 1 year of age.

Hiatal hernia

When a part of the abdomen protrudes up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity, it may be a sign of a hiatal hernia. Both men and women over 50 years old are more likely to develop a hiatal hernia. It frequently causes gastroesophageal reflux, so it’s vital to start treating the condition as soon as possible.

Incisional hernia

People who had abdominal surgery are at risk of developing an incisional hernia. The problem is, their intestines can easily push through the incision scar and the surrounding tissue.

What Are the Major Causes of Hernia?

Hernias can develop in babies who have a weak abdominal wall or can be present at birth (congenital). In other cases, except an incisional hernia, there are no reasons for hernias. The risk can increase with age and men have a much higher risk than women.

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Other factors that cause hernias include the medical problems and activities that put a high pressure on the abdominal wall. They are:

  • undescended testicles;
  • physical exertion;
  • smoking (tobacco contain chemicals that weaken the tissues;
  • poor nutrition and frequent nutrient deficiencies;
  • peritoneal dialysis;
  • lifting heavy items;
  • high intensity workouts;
  • abdominal fluid;
  • obesity;
  • straining to urinate;
  • enlarged prostate;
  • cystic fibrosis;
  • chronic sneezing or cough;
  • constipation;

Who Are at Risk?

As mentioned above men over 50 are more likely to have a hernia, however each type of the illness has its own factors.

The risk factors of a hiatal hernia include obesity and age. The umbilical hernia can occur if you are a woman, have several pregnancies, or you have weight issues.

The risk factors of an inguinal hernia include pregnancy, age, heredity, suffering from inguinal hernias in the past, gender (men), smoking, low birth weight, premature birth, and chronic constipation.

If you had a surgical procedure on the abdomen, you’re at risk of developing an incisional hernia – especially if you rapidly gain weight, get pregnant, or get involved in strenuous activities.

The Most Evident Symptoms of Hernia

Even though a hernia doesn’t cause a severe pain, sometimes it’s much more than just a swelling that require an immediate medical attention, so if you have any of the hernia symptoms, call your doctor immediately.

If you notice a lump or a bulge on any side of the pubic bone where the thigh and groin meet, chances are you have an inguinal hernia. When a part of the gut gets strangulated or obstructed by an inguinal hernia, an immediate surgery is required.

If your child has the bulge when they’re crying, it’s a sign they have a hernia. The bulge is usually the major symptom of an umbilical hernia.

General symptoms of a hernia are:

  • Vomiting;
  • Nausea, including morning nausea;
  • Mild to severe pain with no obvious reason;
  • Bulge that can’t be pushed back into the belly and causes discomfort.

The most common symptoms of a hiatal hernia are:

  • Swallowing problems (dysphasia);
  • Mild to severe chest pain;
  • Acid reflux (a burning sensation caused by the process when the stomach acid moves back into the esophagus).

The most frequent symptoms of an inguinal hernia are:

  • Pressure, weakness, or a feeling of heaviness in the stomach;
  • Discomfort and stomach ache, especially when lifting, smoking, coughing, or bending over;
  • An aching, gurgling, or burning sensation at the area of the bulge.

You can feel any type of hernia through the touch when you’re coughing, bending down, or even standing up. Sometimes, a hernia doesn’t have visible symptoms, so if you feel any tiny bulge in the stomach, seek a medical help before it grows into something bigger.

How to Diagnose the Right Type of Hernia

Unless you’re a doctor, you won’t be able to diagnose which type of a hernia you have. A physical examination isn’t enough, either. Endoscopy or barium X-ray may be required to detect certain types of hernias, including a hiatal hernia.

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When it comes to an umbilical hernia, a child needs to undergo an ultrasound to help a doctor see the structures and possible complications inside the body.

How to Treat Hernia

Depending on the size and severity of your hernia symptoms, you may not need a surgery. However, even if you don’t have any drastic symptoms, it doesn’t mean that you should sit and wait for a hernia to vanish itself. There are three popular ways to treat hernias, such as medication, healthy lifestyle, and surgery.

Medications

In case you’re suffering from a hiatal hernia, prescription and over-the-counter medications that decrease the stomach acid might help to reduce discomfort and alleviate the symptoms. Again, consult a doctor because some medications can worsen the symptoms of your hernia.

Healthy lifestyle

Certain lifestyle changes not only improve the symptoms of a hernia, but also help to prevent it. Start with the things you put into your body. Eliminate heavy or large meals from your eating plan.

Avoid lying down or bending over after eating; it’s best to walk around the room or house a little bit. Moreover, control your body weight, which can increase your chance of developing a hernia.

Apart from eating wholesome foods, it’s crucial to move your body. When done correctly, certain workouts can help to strengthen the muscles around the affected area, reducing some hernia symptoms.

When done incorrectly though, exercise can make your hernia bulge more. A physical therapist can help you choose the right workouts for you.

Surgery

In case your hernia is causing pain or growing larger, you may need an immediate surgery. During surgery, a doctor will sew the hole in the abdominal wall closed to repair the hernia. It’s usually done by patching the entire hole with a surgical mesh.

There are two surgical options: keyhole surgery (laparoscopic) and open surgery. The laparoscopic surgery is less harmful to the surrounding tissues and it almost doesn’t cause complications like infections.

This type of surgery uses miniaturized surgical equipment and a tiny camera to repair the hernia by using several small incisions, ensuring a faster recovery. The stomach area is inflated with gas to provide a better sight and give the surgeon some space to work. The general anesthetic is used for this surgery.

Open surgery closes the hernia with the help of mesh, or sutures, or both, as well as surgical glue, staples, or sutures to close the surgical wound in the skin. The recovery process can take up to a month unlike a laparoscopic surgery.

Laparoscopic surgery is an expensive process, but even though it ensures a fast recovery, it possesses certain complications and increases the risk of hernia reoccurring. Plus, not all types of hernias can be treated with the help of a laparoscopic surgery.

The Complications of Hernias

Self-treatment is dangerous just like ignoring the symptoms of a hernia. Not only can it grow bigger, but also can cause unbearable chronic pain. Moreover, a part of your intestine might get trapped in the abdominal wall, obstructing your bowel and causing constipation, nausea, or severe stomach pain.

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The wrongly treated or ignored hernia can also place a lot of pressure on the nearby tissues, causing the pain and swelling in the surrounding area. In case the trapped section of the intestines won’t get enough blood flow, you can experience an unexpected strangulation.

The intestinal tissue can become infected or dead, leading to a life-threatening strangulated hernia that can’t be cured without a professional medical treatment.

How to Prevent Hernias

Hernia isn’t as frequent illness as cold and flu, for instance, so it may be difficult to know how to reduce your risk of a hernia. However, there’s always an option. Whether you know some of your relatives had a hernia or you had it in the past, it’s important to alter your lifestyle to ward off all types of hernias.

The great news is that the following tips can help you avoid experiencing this health issue and many others along:

  • Don’t overdo with workouts. HIITs and other high-intensity workouts can damage your body and lead to a hernia. You don’t have to say no to these workouts, though. Just try not to lift too heavy weights and keep your workout sessions in control. Also, never place or lift heavy objects on your back or with your knees.
  • Add some flexibility and stretching exercises to your workout routine and get enough rest after each session. Yoga is an excellent choice. But if you had a hernia in the past, be careful with the asanas you pick as some can worsen your symptoms.
  • Try to avoid straining during urination or bowel movements.
  • Keep a healthy body weight. Being overweight or obese creates a bigger abdominal pressure and boosts your risk of an inguinal hernia. If you’re overweight or obese, consider shedding a few pounds in a healthy way. But again, don’t overdo it. Rapid weight loss can cause protein and vitamin deficiencies, causing weakness in the abdomen muscles.
  • Cure your cough. If you’ve been coughing for more than a week, you’re more likely to develop a chronic condition that can lead to a hernia. See your doctor to treat coughing on time.
  • Quit smoking, especially if you have a chronic form of coughing from it.
  • Treat constipation. Chronic constipation increases your risk for developing a hernia too.
  • Maintain a healthy posture. Although there’s no evidence that a poor posture alone can cause a hernia, some studies show that it can contribute to a hernia development along with other factors, such as too much exercise or lifting or carrying heavy bags and other objects.

If you are overweight or obese, have chronic spells of coughing, suffer from chronic constipation, or lift heavy weights on a weekly basis, you’re more prone to hernias. Men, especially bodybuilders, are particularly prone to hernias since they place too much pressure on their bodies. It’s quite possible to notice the bulge or recognize the symptoms of a hernia, but you can’t treat it without a medical treatment.

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