Hernias happen when fat tissue or intestine push through a weak point or hole in the muscle of the abdominal wall. Some people experience pain or pressure in the area, but often, hernias come with minimal symptoms. Hernias do not go away on their own. They can worsen over time, and serious complications can happen if the herniated contents get stuck and cannot be pushed back into the hernia.

Diagnosing a Hernia

People of all ages can get hernias. You may notice a a bulge in your belly or groin, where most hernias occur. There are many different types of hernias, depending on where they are in the body. If you think you might have a hernia, it is important to have it examined by a doctor. A physical exam is usually enough to diagnose a hernia. Your doctor will be able to feel it and might be able to see it.

Hernia Treatment

Consulting with a surgeon will help determine if and when surgery is needed. If the hernia is small and not causing any problems, your doctor might decide to monitor it to make sure it is not growing.

Surgery is necessary when hernias:

  • Are getting larger
  • Are painful
  • Cannot be pushed back inside (non-reducible)
  • Involve a trapped piece of bowel (incarcerated)

Depending on the size, location and type of hernia you have, surgery can be minimally invasive (laparoscopic), with keyhole-sized incisions. More complex hernias may require traditional open surgery.

Preventing a Hernia

Hernias are difficult to prevent. The hole, or defect in the muscle, is often present at birth, and the weakness worsens with time.

Certain types of hernias can be identified and fixed at birth. This can be the case for inguinal hernias, which are located in the groin. All babies have an inguinal canal, and for boys, the canal lets the testicles descend into the scrotum (the sac that holds the testicles). If the canal doesn’t completely close, a hernia may develop. Similarly, umbilical hernias, located around the belly button, may also be identified and treated at birth.

People who have recently had abdominal surgery are at a higher risk for developing a hernia and should take the necessary recovery time. This type of hernia is called an incisional hernia because it forms where the surgical scar is located. In the months following surgery, patients should avoid strenuous activities and weight gain, which can put extra stress on healing tissues.

Some hernias are difficult to identify, and it is hard to predict if they will worsen. There are some things you can do to slow progression and keep symptoms at bay:

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Carrying additional weight can weaken and stretch the abdomen’s muscles and tissues and lead to a hernia. Staying active and lean can prevent pressure from extra body fat.
  • Eat enough fiber: Constipation leads to straining, which can increase the risk of a hernia. Fiber-rich foods can prevent constipation. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, daily fiber intake should be 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men.
  • Seek treatment for a persistent cough or sneezing: A chronic cough or allergies can make a hernia worse because of the strain on the abdominal muscles.
  • Quit smoking: Long-term smokers often have a dry and persistent cough. Smokers are more at risk for hernias because coughing weakens the abdominal wall.

Hernia Repair Team