A hernia occurs when there is weakened muscle or tissue that tears allowing the internal organ or tissue to bulge through the opening. Hernias in the abdomen are common, but they can also occur in the groin or upper thigh. Depending on the type, size, and location of the hernia, you may be able to see a bulge. Hernias can happen in all people from newborn babies to adults, male or female. Most hernias only cause mild symptoms; however, they should never be ignored because they will not go away on their own. It is possible to manage some hernias with lifestyle changes, but some may become life threatening if untreated. It is best to have a doctor examine you to determine whether you may require surgery to repair the hernia. There are several different types of hernias.
Inguinal hernia – most common hernia, located in the groin area, much more common in men
Umbilical hernia – intestines bulge through abdominal wall
Ventral hernia – tissue bulges through opening in muscles of abdomen
Incisional hernia – a type of ventral hernia, occurs after surgery at the incision site
Hiatal hernia –upper portion of stomach pushes up through the diaphragm into the chest cavity
Congenital diaphragmatic hernia – a rare birth defect where infant’s diaphragm isn’t completely formed allowing stomach and other organs into the chest cavit
Symptoms of a Hernia
Symptoms of a hernia will vary based on the type of hernia and the location. The most common symptoms of inguinal, umbilical, and ventral hernias are a bulge or lump in the affected area. Sometimes the lump will disappear when you lie down, depending on location. Sometimes you can feel the lump when you stand, bend down, or cough. You may have pain, pressure, or discomfort in the area. Hiatal hernias will cause other symptoms, such as heartburn, trouble swallowing, and chest pain. Many times, hernias will have no symptoms at all. It is merely through medical exams for another reason that they are discovered. Newborns with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia may have difficulty breathing and need immediate medical assistance. A strangulated hernia can cause sudden pain, constipation, nausea, or vomiting and can be life-threatening, so seek immediate medical attention.
Causes of a Hernia
It takes a combination of muscle weakness and strain to cause a hernia. They can develop quickly or over a long period of time.
Causes of Muscle Weakness or Strain that May Lead to a Hernia
- Congenital condition occurring during development in the womb and present at birth
- Damage from injury or surgery
- Chronic coughing such as from COPD
- Strenuous exercise or lifting heavy objects
- Pregnancy, especially multiple pregnancies
- Constipation causing strain
- Fluid in abdomen
Additional Risks of Hernia
- Family history
- Previous hernia
- Chronic constipation
- Cystic fibrosis
- Premature birth
- Low birth weight
Diagnosis of a Hernia
It is extremely important that if you are experiencing any hernia symptoms you see your doctor. A simple physical exam will help to diagnose many hernias, because the doctor will be able to feel the bulge. During the exam the doctor may have you stand, bend over, or cough as it will cause some hernias to bulge out. Imaging test such as abdominal ultrasounds, CT scans, or MRI scans can all provide pictures of potential hernias. Suspected hiatal hernias will require more in-depth testing to provide a look inside the stomach. A gastrografin, or barium x-ray, consist of drinking a liquid barium solution and then taking x-rays to clearly see the digestive tract. An endoscopy consists of a tube with a small camera and light that is placed down your throat into your stomach to get a view of the stomach.
Treatment of Hernias
The only way to repair a hernia is with surgery. However, if your hernia is not large enough to cause severe symptoms, and is not in danger of complications, your doctor may recommend monitoring it until it reaches that point. There are a few things that can be done to ease symptoms while monitoring a hernia.
- Wearing a supportive undergarment (truss) can hold it in place. Since straining from constipation can aggravate a hernia, increasing fiber intake can help relieve constipation.
- Medications that reduce stomach acid can relieve hiatal hernia symptoms.
- Avoiding eating large, heavy, or spicy meals and not lying down or bending over after meals can also help hiatal hernias.
- Smoking can also weaken the muscles, so stopping smoking can reduce risk. Since obesity is another risk, maintaining a healthy weight can be beneficial.
If surgery is required to repair a hernia, it is completed by sewing closed the hole in the abdominal wall and patching it with surgical mesh. This can be completed with an open incision or laparoscopically. The laparoscopic surgery is less damaging to surrounding tissue, uses smaller incisions, and has a faster recovery. Some hernias are not suitable for laparoscopic surgery and must be done open surgery, where a larger incision is made to push the tissue back in.
Recovery from hernia can take several weeks. You may have pain around the surgical area and must take care of the incision site to prevent infection. Moving around can be painful for several weeks and you will need to avoid strenuous activity or lifting anything more than 10 pounds during this time. Open surgery recovery takes longer to recover than laparoscopic.
If you need to have hernia surgery, the experts at Central Valley Surgical Specialists in Bakersfield, California are experienced in hernia repair. Call today for more information.
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