Hernias are very common. They occur when an internal organ bulges through weak muscle. Men, women and children can all be affected by hernias, but those over 50, smokers, pregnant women and obese people are most at-risk. While some hernias have no identifiable cause, many are the result of muscle weakness and straining due to constipation, lifting heavy objects, chronic cough, obesity, pregnancy and childbirth.
Symptoms of a hernia include a visible bulge, pain, a burning sensation, aching, pressure or swelling. Many don’t cause symptoms at all; however, if you experience the sudden onset of pain in the groin or abdomen, or nausea and vomiting associated with a hernia, seek emergency medical attention. This may mean the hernia is strangulated, which cuts off blood flow to vital organs or blocks the intestines. A strangulated hernia is potentially life-threatening.
There are many different types of hernias, designated by their location in the body.
Inguinal and Femoral Hernias
Both inguinal and femoral hernias are groin hernias. The most common type of hernia, inguinal hernias are typically seen in men and occur in the lower abdomen just above the leg crease. Femoral hernias, on the other hand, are much more common in women. They appear in the upper part of the thigh near the groin and are usually the result of childbirth.
The second-most common type of hernia, incisional hernias occur at the site of a previous abdominal surgery, such as an appendectomy.
Umbilical and Epigastric Hernias
These abdominal (or ventral) hernias are differentiated by their location in the torso. Epigastric hernias are closer to the breastbone, while umbilical hernias are nearer the belly button.
Sliding Hiatal and Paraesophageal Hiatal Hernias
When the top part of the stomach pushes through the opening of the diaphragm (called the hiatus), it’s known as a hiatal hernia. There are two types of hiatal hernias: sliding and paraesophageal. Sliding hiatal hernias are the most common of the two and occur when the stomach, as well as the place where the stomach and esophagus meet, bulge through the hiatus. Paraesophageal hiatal hernias are less common and more serious. In this case, the stomach moves up through the hiatus and is next to the esophagus.
Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernias
Like a hiatal hernia, a congenital diaphragmatic hernia (CDH) happens when internal organs push through the diaphragm. Unlike a hiatal hernia, a CDH is the result of developmental problems with the diaphragm in-utero. There are two types of CDH: Bochdalek hernias and Morgagni hernias. The Bochdalek hernia is more common and involves the back and sides of the diaphragm. The Morgagni hernia occurs in the front part of the diaphragm. CDH is a life-threatening condition that requires neonatal intensive care and corrective surgery.
Hernias never go away on their own; a hernia requires surgery to repair a hernia. Surgery is necessary if the hernia causes severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or becomes strangulated, blocking blood flow or the intestines. However in most cases, it’s possible to manage a hernia without surgery by monitoring the hernia for changes, avoiding certain foods and alcohol, quitting smoking, losing weight and using antacids to reduce the amount of acid in the stomach.
If you’re worried you may have a hernia, speak with a medical provider. Only a doctor can properly diagnose and develop a treatment plan for hernias.