Hernia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Hernia is a disease that occurs when one of the body organs pushes through the tissue or muscle holding it in its place. This disease commonly affects the abdominal area. However, it may also affect other parts of the human body including the thighs, belly button and groin. Hernia is not considered to be a life-threatening disease. But it doesn’t cure on its own and may lead to several complications. Patients, suffering from hernia, may need to undergo surgeries to get the disease cured and prevent any complications.

Types of Hernia:

There are four major types of hernia. They are:

  • Inguinal hernia – This is the commonest form of hernia and makes for 70% of all hernia cases reported worldwide. It occurs when the intestines push through the weak muscles or tissues of the lower abdomen. This type of hernia mostly affects the inguinal canal.
  • Hiatal hernia – This type of hernia occurs when part of stomach pushes up through the diaphragm muscles into the chest cavity. Diaphragm is a muscular layer that helps breathing by contracting air and drawing it into the lungs. And this muscular layer separates the human organs in the abdominal area and the organs in the chest area.
  • Umbilical hernia – This type of hernia mostly affects toddlers who are aged 6 months or less. This hernia affects the belly button area and occurs when the intestines protrude through abdominal walls near the belly button. One of the easiest ways to spot this type of hernia is by noticing the bulge in or near the belly button of the toddler, especially when they cry. This type of hernia goes away as the child grows. Typically, when the child is one year’s old, abdominal wall muscles become stronger and Umbilical hernias completely vanishes. If the bulge in the belly button area continues even after the child is 1 years old, a surgery may be required to remove the hernia.
  • Incisional hernia – This type of hernia mostly affects people who have undergone abdominal surgeries. In this hernia, the intestine pushes through the incision scar or the tissues weakened by the surgery.

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Symptoms of Hernia:

The commonest way to identify hernia is by noticing a lump or bulge in the affected areas of the body. Those suffering from inguinal hernia may notice a bulge on the sides of their pubic bone. This is the area where groin and thigh meet.

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of inguinal hernia:

Pain in lower abdomen (when bending, coughing, or lifting an object)

  • Weakness
  • Heaviness in abdomen
  • Burning sensation in the affected area

Here is a list of some of the most common symptoms of hiatal hernia:

  • Acid reflux
  • Burning sensation in stomach
  • Chest pain
  • Swallowing difficulty

Please note: In many cases, hernia shows no symptoms at all. One may not be able to identify the problem until it is discovered by a medical examination

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Causes of Hernia:

There are many causes for hernia. However, it is typically caused by strain and muscle weakness. The symptoms of hernia may show very early or may even take years to show up depending on its cause. Here is a list of some of the many causes of muscle weakness that may eventually lead to hernia.

Abdominal wall not closing the womb properly. This is a congenital defect.

  • Old age
  • chronic coughing
  • Muscle damages due to injuries or surgery

Here is a list of some of the many causes of strain that may lead to hernia:

  • Pregnancy: During pregnancy abdominal area is under constant pressure
  • Constipation: It may strain the bowel movement.
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Ascites (fluid in abdomen)
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Surgery or incision
  • Persistent cough
  • Persistent Sneezing

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Some Risk Factors of Hernia:

Here is a list of some of the many factors that may increase the likeliness of developing hernia.

  • Family history of hernia
  • Obesity
  • Chronic cough
  • Chronic constipation
  • Smoking

Some medical conditions including cystic fibrosis may also increase the risk of hernia. This is because cystic fibrosis can damages the functionality of lungs and leads to chronic cough.

Complications of Hernia:

If hernia is not treated, it may lead to life-threatening complications including:

  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Severe constipation
  • Swelling in abdomen
  • Strangulation in intestine
  • Damage to intestinal tissue

Diagnosis of Hernia:

The diagnosis of inguinal or incisional hernia requires physical examination of the affected area. Medical professionals may physically examine bulge in the abdomen or groin when standing, coughing or straining to identify hernia.

Diagnosis of hiatal hernia is done by endoscopy or barium X-ray. Barium X-ray takes a series of ex-ray of the digestive tract. Before taking this test, the patients are made to drink a liquid solution containing barium. On the other hand, endoscopy is a process where a small camera attached to a tube is threaded down the throat into esophagus and stomach in order to check for hernia. Both these tests help identify the traces of hernia in the stomach.

For umbilical hernia, an ultrasound is done on children. Ultrasound is the medical test where high-frequency sound waves are used to create an image of the internal body organs.

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Treatment of Hernia:

Hernia patients may need treatment depending upon the size of the bulge and the severity of the symptoms of the disease. Treatment of the disease may vary from a surgery to medication depending upon the complication of the disease. Some of the most common treatment options of hernia include lifestyle changes, medication or surgery.

Lifestyle Changes

Ensuring healthy and balanced diet can help get relief from the symptoms of hiatal hernia. However, dietary changes cannot make the disease go away entirely. Patients suffering from hernia must avoid consuming heavy meals. In addition, one must remain careful of not lying down or bending over after the meal. Furthermore, it makes sense to ensure healthy body weight.

Some form of exercises can help reduce the symptoms of hernia and strengthen the muscles around the hernia site. But be advised that improper exercise may lead to unnecessary pressure at the body parts affected by hernia. This may cause the hernia to increase further. Before starting on a fitness regime, it makes sense to discuss what exercises hernia patients must do or not do with a certified physical therapist.

Hernia patients must avoid smoking as it may cause heart burn and acid reflux. Also, it is important to avoid food items that may cause acid reflux or heartburn.


Certified medical professionals may suggest medications to hernia patients. These medicines may involve some over-the-counter drugs that help reduce acid reflux and provide immediate relief from symptoms of hernia. Some such medicines are proton pump inhibitors, antacids and H-2 receptor blockers.


In some cases, hernia patients may need to undergo a surgery to remove the bulge created by hernia. This surgical procedure is done by stitching the hole in the abdominal wall. This hole is usually patched using surgical mesh.

Typically, two types of surgical procedures are carried out to repair hernia. These are open or laparoscopic surgery.

In laparoscopic surgery, doctors use a camera which is thrusted inside the body through the tube and then the hernia is repaired using small incisions. This type of surgery doesn’t cause much damage to the muscle tissues surrounding the abdominal wall. Whereas in an open surgery, doctors make larger incision in order to repair the disease.

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Prevention of Hernia:

Mostly, it remains a daunting task to avoid muscle weakness which eventually leads to hernia. But by being a little careful and cautious of not placing strain on muscles, one can easily prevent hernia from occurring. Some of the many tips to prevent hernia include:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Regular check-ups to avoid persistent cough
  • Ensuring healthy body weight
  • Avoiding strains during urination or bowel movements
  • Avoid lifting of heavy objects

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Myths Related to Hernia:

Myth #1: Hernia is a sign of weakness.

Fact: No! Hernia is not a sign of weakness. It is actually a disease that must be treated properly to avoid life-threatening complications.

Myth #2: Yoga can be effective in treating Hernia.

Fact: While a large number of yoga practitioners claim to have got relief from hernia using yoga, there are no medical evidences that prove that hernia can be treated using yoga. Therefore, it is important to undergo a proper surgery to have the hernia removed. If not treated properly hernia can grow in size and lead to serious, life-threatening complications.

Myth #3: Surgery of hernia requires a big abdominal incision.

Fact: While it is true that an incision in the abdomen is required to push the affected tissues back in place, mostly a very small incision is made to carry out the surgical procedure. Mostly, plastic mesh is used to repair hernia.

Myth #4: Laparoscopic hernia surgery is the only treatment for hernia.

Fact: It is important to understand that not everyone is eligible to undergo Laparoscopic hernia surgery.  People with excessive body weight are usually required to undergo open hernia surgeries. In addition, those who have suffered infections at the site of the hernia or have abdominal scar tissues are also required to undergo open hernia surgery.

Myth #5: Hernia is a communicable disease and spreads with physical contact.

Fact: Hernia is a non-communicable disease and is not spread by physical contact. In addition, hernia also doesn’t spread via air or water.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

1) Can hernia be dangerous?

Ans: If hernia is not treated properly, it may get bigger. The bigger it grows, the more painful it becomes.  In addition, in case of strangulated hernia, one may require an immediate surgery to have the hernia removed, otherwise it may lead to life-threatening complications.

2) What is a Strangulated Hernia?

Ans: In case the abdominal wall closes while a fold of bowel protrudes through it, it is called a strangulated hernia. Strangulated hernia may lead to an abruption or blockage of blood supply to the bowel. This could lead to extreme discomfort and one may need to undergo surgery immediately to avoid any further complications.  That’s why it makes sense to not avoid the pain of hernia and one must seek immediate medical attention.

3) Can a hernia be a birth defect?

Ans: Yes! Unfortunately, hernia can be passed on from parents to offspring. In addition, some newborns with extremely weak inguinal canal can eventually develop hernia. Furthermore, many cases of infants having umbilical hernia have been reported. While most of these cases become better on their own, some of them may need surgeries.

4) What is a “sports hernia"?

Ans: A tendon or ligament injury in the groin is referred to as sports hernia. It may mimic the discomfort of a true hernia. Depending on how severe the condition is, sports hernia can be treated using medications, injections, physical therapy or surgery.

5) How to detect hernia?

Ans: Hernia is actually an abnormal opening in the abdominal wall allowing abdominal contents to protrude through the opening. One can easily notice a bulge or a bump under the skin in such a case. While many hernia do not really cause pain or discomfort, a large number of hernia cases reported cause a lot of pain and discomfort. It makes sense to consult a certified medical practitioner as soon as one detects hernia.

6) Is surgery the only treatment for hernia?

Ans: No! Many types of hernia can be treated by medicines, injections or physical therapies. However, most hernia cases require surgeries. Those with little or no discomfort or pain concerning hernia do not require undergoing medical surgeries immediately.

7) Does smoking affect hernia?

Ans: Yes! Smoking may cause chronic coughing and it can lead to hernia. Medical researchers have revealed that smoking may also cause hernia to reoccur. Those who smoke heavily are at a greater risk of developing abdominal hernias as against non-smokers because nicotine in cigarettes usually weakens the abdominal wall.

8) Is hernia surgery risky?

Ans: Usually, there is no risk associated with hernia surgery. However, infections and bleeding is possible when undergoing hernia surgery. The surgery may also pose risk if the patient is a heavy smoker, consumes alcohol in large quantity, is old or is suffering from some other medical conditions. Also, chances of injuries to bladder, blood vessels or nerves may increase due to hernia surgery, as is the case with any other surgery.

9) What is a ventral hernia?

Ans: When there is a weakness in the abdominal wall developing a hole or tear in the wall, it is referred to as ventral or abdominal hernia. This hernia is caused when intestinal or abdominal tissues protrude through the hole or tear in the abdominal wall. This causes a bulge that is visible under the skin.

10) How soon can one start normal activities after hernia surgery?

Ans: This actually depends upon the type of hernia and the kind of surgery undertaken to repair hernia. However, most hernia surgeries just last for a few hours and one can return to normal activities within just 2-4 week of the surgery.

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Last updated on : 24-12-2018

Disclaimer : Docprime doesn’t endorse or take any guarantee of the accuracy or completeness of information provided under this article and these are the views strictly of the writer. Docprime shall not be held responsible for any aspect of healthcare services administered with the information provided on this article.

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