What is a Hernia?

close up of a  man holding his back in pain.

A hernia occurs when tissue or an organ protrude through a weak spot in surrounding muscles or connective tissue. There are several types of hernias, which may result in different symptoms and may require different treatments.

  • Inguinal hernia – The bladder or intestine pokes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall or the groin. Men have a naturally occurring weak spot in this region, leaving them especially susceptible to inguinal hernia.

  • Incisional hernia – The intestine pushes through a weakened spot in the abdominal wall at the site of a previous abdominal surgery. Overweight patients who remained inactive following an abdominal surgery at an increased risk for incisional hernia.

  • Femoral hernia – The intestine slips into the canal carrying the femoral artery into the upper thigh. Femoral hernias are most common in women, particularly those who are pregnant or overweight.

  • Umbilical hernia – Part of the small intestine pokes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall near the navel. Umbilical hernias are common in newborns, as well as obese women and women who have had multiple pregnancies. These hernias tend to resolve themselves in babies, often disappearing by the time the child has reached one year of age. If the umbilical hernia persists after one year, surgery may be required to repair it.

  • Hiatal hernia – The upper portion of the stomach pokes through the opening in the diaphragm through which the esophagus passes. This condition almost always leads to GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease, in which stomach contents or acid flow back into the esophagus.

The root cause of all hernias is combination of pressure and a weak spot or opening in surrounding muscles. In some cases, the weak spot is present from birth, but more frequently the weakness develops throughout the patient’s life. Obesity, poor nutrition, and tobacco use all leave a patient more susceptible to any form of hernia, as do poor body mechanics. Some health conditions also increase the likelihood of developing a hernia, such as diarrhea, constipation, or chronic coughing. Though the different locations of different types of hernias may result in different symptoms, one commonality is the likelihood of a palpable lump at the affected area. If you experience pain in your abdomen or groin area and feel a lump or bulge, contact your doctor for a diagnosis and to determine the best course of action.

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