A hernia occurs when an internal part of the body (such as the intestine), pushes through a weakness in the overlying muscle wall, resulting in a soft lump.
Symptoms of a Hernia
- A sudden pain when straining or lifting etc.
- Pain often eases after the initial period.
- A soft lump can often be felt in the lower abdomen or groin.
- The lump may come and go as the internal part moves in and out of the gap in the muscle wall.
- The lump often disappears when lying down.
- The lump often grows when coughing or sneezing and this sometimes causes pain.
Types of Hernia
There are several types of hernia which are classified based on location.
These are the most common form of hernias which occur right in the crease of the groin. Thery account for 3 out of 4 hernias and are more common in men than women. More on Inguinal hernias.
These are the next most common form of hernia but occur a little lower down into the top of the leg and are more common in women. They are usually smaller than inguinal hernias. More on femoral hernias.
An umbilical hernia occurs near the belly button. These are present from birth and if they require action will be treated in childhood.
These occur when the tissue pushes through an old wound or a scar. They are most common when the scar hasn't healed well or has had an infection and usually occur within two years of the initial injury.
Hiatus hernias occur when part of the intestines push upwards from the abdomen into the chest cavity through a hole in the diaphragm
Causes and Risk Factors
Hernias are more common in men than women, with 1 in 4 men suffering a hernia at some point in their life, compared to only 3 women in every 100!
Hernias often develop due to a sudden strain or force, often lifting something heavy for example. But this is not always the case. They may appear for no apparent reason.
Other risk factors for developing a hernia include:
- Age - The older you are the higher your risk of developing a hernia.
- Weight - Overweight and obese people are more likely to suffer a hernia.
- Long-term coughing - Coughing places a strain on the abdominal wall.
- Long-term constipation - Similarly, straining can result in a hernia.
Generally, hernias are more of an annoyance than a danger, but it is important to get a suspected hernia checked out.
This is because, in a few cases, the hernia becomes 'strangulated'. Basically, what this means is that the part of the intestine poking through the hole in the muscle wall is being constricted, which can result in the blood supply to those tissues being cut off. This can lead to death of the tissues and so is a medical emergency.
In a few other cases, the hernia can result in an obstruction in the bowel, which again requires urgent medical attention.
Whilst the treatment of most hernias is not urgent, it is usually recommended to have a hernia surgically repaired. Generally this is because the hernia will more tha likely just get bigger and more uncomfortable and secondly there is always a risk of it strangulating if it is not repaired.
The operation is fairly routine and takes only an hour or so to perform. In most cases the patient can go home the next day and return to work in around a week.
The procedure usually involves using a piece of mesh to repair to hole in the abdominal wall.