6 Things to Know About Hernias

  • Cropped image of older Caucasian male with hands crossed around abdomen
    What Is a Hernia?
    Millions of people develop hernias every year, when a part of an organ or other tissue pushes through a weak spot in the muscle wall that usually holds it in place. Many people don’t know they have one, unless it causes symptoms. Find out how hernias happen and what can be done about them if they are causing pain or discomfort.

  • Couple carrying heavy moving box in kitchen
    1. Hernias are usually caused by straining or intense physical exertion.
    Most hernias occur in the abdomen, when part of the intestine protrudes through the muscle wall, forming a bulge, though they can also happen near the diaphragm. Anyone can get one, but you can be prone to hernia if you were born with weak abdominal muscles, are obese, older, or smoke. Lifting heavy objects, straining during bowel movements, or severe coughing and sneezing can cause hernias. Pregnant women are also more likely to develop a hernia. You may not have symptoms, but hernias can be painful when you bend, cough, or lift things.

  • Male doctor performing abdominal ultrasound on male patient
    2. All hernias are bulges, but you may or may not be able to see them.
    If you see a bulge in your groin or lower abdomen, especially one that you can press into place when you lie down, you may well have a hernia. Hernias that are higher up, near your diaphragm, are called hiatal hernias and are not visible. If you have trouble swallowing, regurgitate food, or have heartburn, you may have a hiatal hernia. Doctors usually diagnose hernias by doing an exam, or in some cases ordering a sonogram or other imaging study.

  • Cropped image of Caucasian woman holding pelvis in pain or discomfort
    3. Most hernias fall into one of two types.
    Hernias are named after their location, and the two most common are inguinal and femoral, which are both located in the groin and account for about 80% of all hernias. Inguinal hernias are higher up than femoral hernias and men are more likely to get them. Women are more susceptible to femoral hernias. Other types of hernias include incisional (near a surgical site), umbilical (near the navel), epigastric (slightly higher than umbilical), or hiatal (near the diaphragm)

  • Middle aged African American professional man in office studying blueprints on wall
    4. Not all hernias need treatment.
    If your hernia is not bothering you, your doctor may suggest rechecking you periodically rather than advising treatment, which is called “watchful waiting.” Hernias will not go away on their own, however, with the exception of some umbilical hernias in infants. Many people don’t even know they have a hernia, but if you have pain associated with your hernia, it grows larger, or you have symptoms like trouble swallowing, regurgitation, or heartburn, your doctor may recommend surgical repair.

  • Close-up of surgical tools including mesh used for hernia surgery
    5. Surgeons can repair your hernia on an outpatient basis.
    When you have hernia surgery, the doctor will make an incision near the site, tie off and remove the protruding tissue or push it back in place, and stitch the muscle wall back together before closing the surgical wound. They may use surgical mesh to strengthen the repair, because hernias tend to recur. Most people go home the same day, but you should not exercise or lift heavy objects for about six weeks following the operation, and make sure to follow all your doctor’s orders following a hernia repair.

  • Older Caucasian woman on couch experience stomach and back pain
    6. Be aware of these signs and symptoms of hernia complications.
    Most hernias are not serious, but there can be rare complications that require urgent medical attention. If the contents of a hernia become trapped in the muscle, it is called an incarcerated hernia and may block your bowel or esophagus. It is a surgical emergency, because it can cut off blood flow and become a strangulated hernia, which is life threatening. If you have a hernia that suddenly becomes gets bigger and becomes more painful, turns dark or red, or you are vomiting, have a fever, feel bloated, and cannot move your bowels, call 911.

What Is a Hernia? | 6 Things to Know About Hernia Pain

About The Author

Nancy LeBrun is an Emmy- and Peabody award-winning writer and producer who has been writing about health and wellness for more than five years. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the American Society of Journalists and Authors.
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  2. Hernia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15757-hernia
  3. Hernia. Medline Plus. NIH National Library of medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/hernia.html
  4. Hernia Center. University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. https://uihc.org/hernia-center
  5. Acute incarcerated external abdominal hernia. U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4245506/
  6. Ventral Hernia. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/16531-ventral-hernia
  7. Hernias and Medical Emergencies. Johns Hopkins Medicine. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/hernia_center/hernias_medical_emergencies.html
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Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.