Types of Hernias

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Close-up of Caucasian man holding stomach with umbilical hernia

When an organ or tissue pushes through a weak spot in the muscles of the body and creates a bulge, you have a hernia. Hernias are common injuries that can be painful or have no symptoms at all. They often develop when you lift a heavy object or strain during a bowel movement, but even severe coughing and sneezing can cause one.

Men are more likely than women to get the most common types of hernias, but they can happen to anyone at any age. You may be prone to develop a hernia if you were born with weak abdominal walls, but many people get them later in life. Obesity, smoking and a poor diet can also weaken your muscles and make you more susceptible to a hernia.

Common Types of Hernias

Hernias are named for their location in the body and develop most often in the abdomen from the area of the diaphragm to the groin. Here are some of the most common types of hernias:

  • Inguinal: The inguinal canal is near your groin. In men, it is a passageway that connects the testicles to the abdominal cavity. In women, the inguinal canal helps supports the uterus. In both sexes, an inguinal hernia creates a bulge in the groin, but inguinal hernias are much more common in men than women.

  • Femoral: Femoral hernias also occur in the groin, but lower down than inguinal hernias, in the crease of the thigh. They are less common than inguinal hernias, and women get them more often than men.

  • Incisional: Incisional hernias form at the site of surgical wounds, usually in older, overweight or inactive people.

  • Hiatal: A hiatal hernia is when part of your stomach pushes upwards through your diaphragm, the muscle wall that separates your abdomen and chest. You may not know you have a hiatal hernia if it’s small, but larger ones can cause problems like heartburn and difficulty swallowing.

  • Umbilical: An umbilical hernia is near the navel. Some infants are born with one, which may close on its own by the time the child is about 4. , Adults require surgery to repair an umbilical hernia.

Other less common types of hernias are epigastric, which occur in the upper abdominal wall, and Spigelian, rare hernias that develop in the outer layers of abdominal muscles, usually in men over 50.

Signs, Symptoms and Treatment of Hernias

All hernias create bulges where the tissue or organ has pushed through the muscle. They are often visible externally, except in the case of a hiatal hernia. Signs and symptoms of hernias include:

  • A bulge in your abdomen or groin that you can see more easily when you are standing or when you cough or strain

  • Pain or a feeling of pressure at the site of the bulge

  • A bulge that disappears or that you can push back into place when you lie down

  • Pain during a bowel movement

  • Pain that increases when you lift something heavy

  • A bulge in the abdomen that grows larger

  • A sense of feeling full or difficulty with bowel movements

  • Difficulty swallowing, regurgitation and heartburn (in the case of a hiatal hernia)

Some small hernias don’t require treatment, but others cause pain and gastrointestinal problems. Hernia repair is one of the most common surgeries performed in the United States. If it is needed, doctors will make an incision, put the protruding tissue back into place or remove it, and stitch the muscle wall back together. Because hernias tend to recur, surgeons may use mesh to strengthen the repair. Some older types of mesh were recalled by the FDA and are no longer available, but others are still used. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about surgical mesh so you understand the risks and benefits.

Complications from hernias are rare, but if the hernia suddenly becomes very painful or firm, grows dark or red, you cannot have a bowel movement, or you have fever and vomiting and know you have a hiatal hernia, it could be a sign that you have an incarcerated hernia, where the bulge contents become trapped. This condition requires quick medical attention or it can become a strangulated hernia, which can be life threatening. If you have these symptoms, call your doctor right away or call 911.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 24
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.
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