Hernias occur when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. For example, the intestines may break through a weakened area in the abdominal wall.
Hernias are most common in the abdomen, but they can also appear in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas. Most hernias aren’t immediately life-threatening, but they don’t go away on their own. Sometimes they can require surgery to prevent potentially dangerous complications.
This is the most common kind of hernia. It happens most often in men, but women sometimes get them during pregnancy. It’s when fat or a loop of intestine pushes into your groin through a weakness in your lower belly. You may be born with it, or the problem can come with:
- Age, as muscles wear down over time
- Chronic coughing, as with someone who smokes
- Strain from physical activity or going to the bathroom
These are like inguinal hernias, but in a different part of the groin. Women are more likely to get them. They’re not common, but they can be dangerous, you may not notice any symptoms unless a muscle squeezes the hole shut while the intestine is poking through (called strangulation). In that case, the lump will be hard and tender and you might have severe belly pain, nausea, or vomiting. If you have these symptoms, get medical help right away.
You get these hernias between your belly button and chest when some tissue or intestine pops through your belly’s muscles. You may be more likely to get one if you:
- Are very overweight
- Have a cough that doesn’t go away
- Lift heavy objects, like with construction work
- Strain hard when you go the bathroom
- Throw up often
Incisional hernias are fairly common for people who’ve had surgery on their bellies. They happen when tissue squeezes through the surgery wound before it totally heals. You’re more likely to get one if you run into problems as you heal, like an infection. The only way to fix them is with another surgery, but they’re often hard to treat.
With this kind of hernia, part of your stomach pops through your diaphragm and into your chest. (Your diaphragm is a sheet of muscle between your belly and chest.) You won’t see a bulge, but you might get heartburn, chest pain, and a sour taste in your mouth. People 50 and older and pregnant women are more likely to have them. Pregnancy can put pressure on the belly and weaken its muscles. They’re typically treated with medication and lifestyle changes, like having several smaller meals rather than three large ones or not lying down within 3 hours of eating.
Hernias: See a Doctor
While a hernia may start out as a harmless bulge, it can get bigger and start to hurt. In some cases, it can even be life-threatening. So even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal, it’s best to call a doctor.
Hernias: When to Visit The Emergency Room
If a loop of intestine gets trapped in a hernia, it is a serious problem called incarceration. It blocks the flow of waste through your body. If it’s trapped tightly, the intestine’s blood flow can get cut off. Get help right away if you have a hernia and these symptoms:
- Bulge is dark, purple, or red.
- You’re not having a regular bowel movement.
- You have a fever.
- Pain quickly gets worse.
- You’re throwing up or have an upset stomach.
Most of the time, the doctor can tell with just a physical exam. Imaging tests can also be used to get a better look. These include:
- Ultrasound: High-frequency sound waves make an image of your internal organs.
- Computerized tomography (CT): X-rays are taken at different angles and put together to make a more complete picture.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This uses a powerful magnet and radio waves to get a detailed view.
Hernias: Prevention Tips
Follow these prevention tips:
- Talk to your doctor if you have a cough or sneezing that won’t go away. Quitting smoking helps.
- Eat fruits, veggies, and whole grains to keep yourself regular.
- Stay at a healthy weight with diet and exercise.
- Use good form when you do physical activity. For example, when lifting a heavy object, bend from your knees instead of your waist.