A hernia is the protrusion of an organ through the structure or muscle that usually contains it such as the abdominal wall. Abdominal wall hernia repair is one of the most common types of surgery with more that 1 million hernia repairs performed each year in the United States. Hernias can be congenital (born with) or acquired (developed over time) and there are many types including:
- Inguinal, or groin hernias – These are most common in men and present as bulges in the groin. Fatty tissue or a part of the intestine irritates the groin at the top of the inner thigh and causes occasional pain. It is estimated that 27% of men and 3% of women will develop an inguinal hernia at some point in their lives.
- Femoral hernias – These are located in the upper thigh/outer groin area and in deeper passages called femoral canals. These are less common than inguinal hernias and are for more likely to occur in women than in men. They also present a higher risk of complications if they are not repaired.
- Ventral hernias – These occur through an opening in the muscles of the abdomen. There are three types of ventral hernias:
- Epigastric hernias – These occur above the bellybutton.
- Incisional hernias – These are caused by a weakening of the abdominal muscle resulting from an incision made during a previous abdominal surgery. Anytime an incision is created on the abdomen for a procedure, a situation for a predisposed hernia can occur.
- Umbilical, or “belly button” hernias – When fatty tissue pushes through the abdomen near the belly button, we call this an umbilical hernia. These are most common in newborns, especially those born prematurely. These hernias usually close on their own by age four. Umbilical hernias can be more problematic when they occur in adults.
- Hiatal hernias – These are a special kind of hernia where the stomach escapes into the chest and predisposes patients to reflux and other clinical conditions which require surgical intervention. This kind of hernia should be fixed by a surgeon who specializes in surgery of the esophagus and the stomach.
Symptoms of a hernia
With most hernias, there will be a noticeable lump or bulge along with potential discomfort or pain. The lump or bulge may not always be present, or it can be “pushed back in” or disappear when lying down. Symptoms may worsen when standing, straining, or lifting heavy objects. If the bulge fails to reduce or becomes extremely painful, or is associated with nausea, vomiting and abdominal distention, it is a sign of obstruction and likely needs emergency surgery. Specific symptoms include:
- Swelling or bulge in the groin or scrotum
- Pain while lifting
- Increase in the bulge over time
- Increased pain at the site of the bulge
- An aching sensation
- A sense of feeling full
With a hiatal hernia, there is no bulge. Common symptoms include heartburn, indigestion, regurgitation of food or liquids, difficulty swallowing and chest pain.
When is Hernia Surgery Needed
Hernia symptoms can usually be treated with medication. Most other types of hernias though require surgical repair. To learn more, please visit our Reflux, Swallowing, and Hernia Center page.