Everyone has heard of the word “hernia,” and the pain that accompanies it, but what does it actually mean? A hernia is when an organ, usually in the abdomen or groin, pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place, creating a bulge. Sounds scary, but it is actually quite common, and often harmless and pain-free. However, a hernia never goes away, and in due time, will require surgery to prevent dangerous complications. In order to bring more attention to hernias and their symptoms, June is listed as Hernia Awareness Month. Let’s look at the causes, risks, and symptoms to look out for. If you ignore the symptoms for too long, you will need emergency surgery to prevent life-threatening health issues.
Different Kinds of Hernias
- Femoral hernia– Bulge that appears in the upper thigh, and is more common in women than men.
- Hiatal hernia– Bulge in the upper part of the stomach, which pushes into the chest.
- Umbilical hernia– Bulge around the belly button, which occurs after the muscle around it does not close after birth. Most common in babies that are premature and low birth weight.
- Incisional hernia– Occurs through a scar from abdominal surgery. Most susceptible 3-6 months after surgery, if not resting.
- Inguinal hernia– Bulge in the groin, which is more common in men.
Weak abdominal tissues lead to hernia development. A hernia can be present at birth, or occur from activities and medical problems that create pressure and strain on the abdominal wall. It can occur quickly, or over a long period of time. Some of the common causes are:
- Chronic coughing
- Cystic fibrosis
- Straining on the toilet due to constipation
- Damage from injury or surgery
- Being overweight
- Lifting heavy items
- Abdominal fluid
- Poor nutrition
- Enlarged prostate, straining to urinate
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Being pregnant
Symptoms To Be Aware Of
Some people will have no signs of a hernia. But for those who do, they will feel some discomfort and pain, which worsens when standing, or lifting something heavy. Some people may even feel the bulge. Symptoms include:
- Pain during physical activities like jogging or lifting
- Pain while sneezing or coughing
- A bulge that does not go away when pushed back in
- Heartburn/Acid Reflux
- Constipation- not being able to pass gas or bowel movements
- Nausea and vomiting
Risk factors typically depend on the type of hernia. Factors that increase the chances of a hernia are:
- Family history
- Increases and occurs more in men than in women.
- Being overweight
- Premature birth and low birth weight
- Age (Older adults)
- Chronic cough
- Chronic constipation
When Surgery Is Dire
Some doctors like to keep an eye on a hernia, while others like to perform elective surgery to fix it before it worsens. If you experience intense pain, nausea, vomiting, or have issues passing a bowel, then this is a huge sign you will need surgery. Complications from a hernia can be life-threatening due to conditions worsening. The different intestinal blockages are:
- Incarceration- A hernia can get stuck, which will cause pain, nausea, and vomiting. It can cause obstruction of the urinary bladder, ovary, or intestines.
- Strangulation- When blood flow is cut off to the herniated tissue, then it dies. This can cause a serious infection and even sepsis. It can be life-threatening and require immediate emergency surgery. This is generally painful and may cause vomiting, nausea, sepsis and even cardiovascular collapse.
Statistics show that abdominal wall hernia occurs in about 10% of the US population. In order to prevent a hernia from occurring, you should practice safe lifting techniques, lose weight if you are overweight, and exercise regularly. Hernias can be non-symptomatic, but the moment you begin to feel extreme pain, vomiting, constipation, or even strain while urinating, then you should see your doctor immediately.