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The formation of a sac protruding out of the abdominal cavity is a hernia. There are many different types hernia. Let us know more about this condition in the following paragraphs.

What is a Hernia?

The term hernia means ‘rupture’. When a part or portion of an organ or fat or tissue pushes through an opening or weak spot in the muscle, tissue or connective tissue wall that holds it in place. The most common region of hernia is the abdomen. Other areas where hernias can occur include the upper thigh, belly button and groin area. Most of the cases of hernias are not life threatening. However, surgical intervention is the only way of correcting and preventing a serious complication.

Abdominal hernias occur when the abdominal wall becomes weak and a localized hole develops within its muscles. This defect allows any organ, tissue or fatty layer around it to slip through it. Hernias do not always cause any pain. Many people with hernia are not aware they are suffering from it; as it never causes any discomfort. All they feel is a lump that crops up in the affected area.

Other types of hernias include the spinal discs where the cushion between the spinal vertebra squeezes out. Intracranial hernias occur when a part of the brain protrude through the foramina or ventral duralseptae. This life threatening condition occurs due to extreme intracranial pressure and requires immediate medical attention.

Why Do Hernias Happen?

Hernias occur when the muscles around the organs become weak. This weakness or defect occurs due to many reasons such as:

  • Improper way of lifting heavy weights
  • Severe coughing bouts
  • Sharp blow to the abdomen
  • Standing and sitting in an incorrect posture
  • Obesity
  • Severe constipation causing one to put excessive strain
  • Enlarge prostate leading to strain during urination
  • Ascites
  • Weakened muscles due to overexertion, poor diet
  • Incorrect closure of the abdominal wall in the womb, leading to a congenital defect
  • Pregnancy causing excessive pressure on the abdominal wall
  • Ehlers-Danlos syndrome that causes defects in the synthesis of collagen
  • A previous surgery that causes weakening of the abdominal wall

Types of Hernias

Some of the many types of hernias include:

  • Inguinal hernia: The intestine or bladder protrude out of the inguinal canal in the groin or the abdominal cavity.
  • Incisional hernia: A previous abdominal surgery causes the intestine to push through the abdominal wall.
  • Femoral hernia: Commonly seen in pregnant women or obese people. Here, the intestine enters the canal that leads to the femoral artery in the thigh.
  • Umbilical hernia: Small intestine slips in the abdominal wall near the belly button. This is common in newborn babies.
  • Hiatal hernia: The upper stomach protrudes into the opening of the diaphragm, that is, esophagus.

Symptoms of Hernia

There may or may not be pain at the site of hernia. Thus, making it very difficult for the affected person to realize the presence of hernia. Some of the symptoms of hernia include:

  • Bulge or lump in the affected area.
  • Lump on either side of the pubic bone in case of inguinal hernia.
  • In case of an umbilical hernia, the bulge is only felt when the baby cries. And, it is important to note, this is the only noticeable symptom of umbilical hernia.
  • One may feel some pain or pressure on the affected area when they cough, lift weights or bend over.
  • Weakness or feeling of pressure in the abdomen.
  • Aching or burning sensation at the site of the bulge.
  • People with hiatal hernia may complain of acid reflux, chest pain and difficulty when swallowing.

In some cases, there are no symptoms and hernias are often detected during an unrelated medical examination.

Diagnosis of Hernia

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The doctor will examine the bulge or swelling in the abdomen. He may ask you to sit, stand, cough or strain. Barium X-ray or endoscopy will be conducted to confirm hiatal hernia. Umbilical hernia in children will be diagnosed with the help of ultrasound sonography.

Treatment for Hernia

Umbilical hernia in infants usually gets better as the abdominal muscles become stronger. In case of adults, hernias usually get larger and requires surgery to correct the protusion.

During the surgery, the hole or defect in the abdominal wall is closed. The protruding tissue, organ or fatty layer is pushed back into the abdominal cavity. A surgical mesh is usually placed to strengthen the weak muscle wall.

There are two types of hernia surgeries: open and laparoscopic. Open surgery involves making a larger incision on the abdomen. The recovery period is also longer, up to 6 weeks. In case of laparoscopic, a small incision is made and the defect is corrected. This surgery requires shorter recovery time. Based on your condition, the doctor may suggest laparoscopic or open surgery.

Complications of Hernia

When left untreated, the hernia can become big. It will become painful and the part of the intestine or organ may become trapped in the abdominal wall. This will lead to severe pain, nausea and constipation. If the trapped organ does not receive enough blood, it can lead to strangulation. Thus, the organ, part or intestine dies and may develop gangrene. This requires immediate medical attention and surgery.

Prevention of Hernia

Hernia can affect anybody, anytime. One can take certain precautions so that their abdominal wall does not become weak. These precautions include:

  • Visit a doctor if one develops severe, persistent cough
  • Develops severe, chronic constipation
  • Avoid lifting heavy weights and putting weight on the knees instead of the back when lifting
  • Exercise some restraint in movement, lifting and diet after undergoing an abdominal surgery. Allow the muscles to gain strength after the surgery.

Hernias can easily be cured with the advancement in today’s medical science. Be aware of any changes in the body and visit the doctor immediately if you find a lump or protrusion in your body.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015

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