Hernia Symptoms: Is there Reason for Panic?

Hernia occurs when an organ or a fatty tissue squeezes through a weak spot in a surrounding muscle or connective tissue called fascia.

There are different types of hernia, with the most common being inguinal (inner groin), femoral (outer groin), umbilical (belly button), hiatal (upper stomach), and incisional (resulting from an incision) [1].

Depending on your hernia type, the hernia symptoms are different.

Types of hernia

We talked that there are five common types of hernia [2].

Let’s look deeper into each type, so that you can easily differentiate them.

Inguinal hernia, or one that appears in the inner groin happens when the intestine or the bladder protrudes through the abdominal wall or into the inguinal canal in the groin.

This is the most common type of hernia, with 96% of all groin hernias being inguinal.

In most cases, inguinal hernias occur in men, because of their natural weakness in this area.

Femoral hernia is also a groin type of a hernia.

This type occurs when the intestine enters the canal carrying the femoral artery into the upper thigh.

Unlike inguinal hernia, femoral hernias usually occur in women.

Ladies that are pregnant and obese are at higher risk of developing femoral hernia.

An incisional hernia is when the intestine pushes through the abdominal wall at the site of a previous abdominal surgery.

Incisional hernia usually occurs in elder people and overweight people.

The main reason is their inactivity after an abdominal surgery.

Hiatal hernia appears in the upper stomach, and it occurs when the upper stomach squeezes through the hiatus, an opening in the diaphragm through which the esophagus passes.

Last, but not least, there is the umbilical hernia, or the one that appears in the belly button.

Umbilical hernia occurs when part of the small intestine passes through the abdominal wall near the navel.

Umbilical hernia is common in newborns, but it can also affect obese women or women that have had many children.

What are the causes of hernia?

While the hernia symptoms are different depending on the hernia type, the cause for almost all hernias is the same.

The cause is usually a combination of pressure and an opening or weakness of muscle or fascia.

The pressure pushes an organ or tissue through the opening or weak spot.

In some cases, the muscle weakness is there at birth, but in most cases, the muscle weakness develops and occurs later in life.

Anything that causes an increase in pressure in the abdomen can cause a hernia, which includes lifting heavy objects without stabilizing the abdominal muscles, constipation, constant diarrhea, persistent sneezing, and even persistent coughing.

Additionally, there are risk factors you need to consider.

When you ask whether you are at risk for a hernia, try to look at the following factors:

  • Being overweight
  • Family or personal history of hernias
  • Chronic cough
  • Smoking, which also triggers a chronic cough
  • Conditions like cystic fibrosis, which impairs the function of the lungs

What are the symptoms of hernia?

We talked previously that hernia symptoms differentiate depending on the type of hernia [3].

But there are some common symptoms, in the same way as there are common causes of hernia.

The most common symptom of hernia is a bulge or a lump in the affected area.

That includes the groin area and the abdomen area.

For example, in the case of an inguinal hernia (inner groin), you will notice a lump on either side of your public bone at the point where the groin and the high meet.

You will feel the hernia or the lump more often when you are standing up, when you are bending down, when you are coughing, and when you are touching the bulge.

For babies, the most obvious of the hernia symptoms is crying [4].

This is when you can feel the bulge easily. In case of an umbilical hernia (most likely to target newborns), bulge is the only one of the hernia symptoms you’ll notice.

In terms of other hernia types, depending on the hernia, the hernia symptoms are different.

Therefore, for inguinal hernia, the symptoms include:

  • Weakness, pressure, and a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen area
  • Burning and aching sensation at the site of the bulge
  • Pain and discomfort in the affected area
  • Pain and discomfort when bending over, lifting, and coughing

In terms of hiatal hernia, these are the symptoms you will notice:

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty when swallowing
  • Acid reflux, a condition in which stomach acid moves backwards into the esophagus and causes a burning sensation

Should you see a doctors?

We will talk later about the treatment and diagnosis of a hernia [5].

But once you know the symptoms, it is important to know that hernia needs professional treatment from an official health care expert.

The moment you notice a painful or noticeable bulge in your groin area, you should consult with a physician.

The bulge is more noticeable when you are standing.

Put your hand directly over the affected area, and you can easily feel the bulge.

The sooner you notice the bulge and react with a visit to the doctor’s office, the better.

Hernia looks like a simple condition that can easily be solved with surgical treatment, but there are possible complications if left untreated.

How is hernia diagnosed?

Being that hernia symptoms include a bulge in the groin area, usually, a hernia can be diagnosed with a simple physical examination.

Your physician will feel the bulge in your abdomen or groin area.

It will get larger when you stand, strain, or cough.

However, in some cases, for example, in hiatal hernia, the doctor may need an endoscopy or a barium X-ray test to diagnose the hernia.

An endoscopy is a procedure in which a small camera is attached to a tube down your throat and into your stomach and esophagus.

Barium X-ray test is a series of X-ray pictures of your digestive tract.

Both of these tests allow the doctor to see the internal location of your stomach and diagnose hernia.

Does my hernia require surgery?

As a general rule of thumb, surgery is the best recommended option for all inguinal hernias [6].

A surgery will help you to avoid complications which we will talk later on.

For example, one complication is strangulation, a condition in which a loop of intestines becomes tightly trapped in a hernia, cutting off the blood supply.

In some cases, at adults, a hernia can be pushed back, or reduced. In this case, a surgery is done at the person’s convenience [7].

If the hernia cannot be pushed back, surgery must be done sooner rather than later.

If the hernia is small and you do not have evident and noticeable symptoms, surgery might not be needed at the moment.

Surgery in children

Unlike adults, surgery in children with inguinal hernia is a must [8].

In most cases, children will need surgery to correct the hernia.

It is important to note that infants at 6 months of age and younger have a higher risk of strangulation than other children and adults.

That is why surgery is a must as soon as possible.

When a surgeon performs a surgery in children, he might also recommend to explore the opposite groin area for a hernia.

It is worth noting that hernia can develop in the other side of the groin in 30 out of 100 children who have had a hernia surgery.

There are two surgery options that can be done to repair inguinal hernias.

One is open inguinal hernia repair, also called hernioplasty or herniorrhaphy.

The other is laparoscopic inguinal hernia repair.

Potential complications

As mentioned previously, a surgery is needed to avoid possible complications and problems due to hernia [9].

If left untreated, and you ignore the hernia symptoms, your hernia will grow and become more painful.

We mentioned the risk of strangulation before.

If the hernia becomes too big, it can trap a portion of your intestine in the abdominal wall.

The condition will result with obstruction of bowel movement and cause severe pain, constipation, and nausea.

If left untreated, a hernia can also put too much pressure on nearby tissues, resulting in swelling in the surrounding area.

Strangulation is the most severe complication that can occur due to ignorance of hernia symptoms.

Strangulation causes the intestinal tissue to become infected or die.

Strangulation is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate care and surgery.

Can you prevent a hernia?

Fact of the matter is that you can prevent muscle weakness.

But what you can do is reduce the amount of strain you place on your body.

Reducing the pressure will help you prevent and avoid hernia symptoms.

It will also prevent existing hernia from getting worse.

Here are some quick prevention tips:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid straining during bowel movement and urination
  • Be careful when lifting heavy objects. Make sure you lift with your knees, not your back
  • Avoid lifting objects that are too heavy for you
  • Try not to smoke
  • Schedule a doctor’s appointment when you develop a persistent cough

hernia symptoms

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Sources:

  1. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hernia/
  2. https://www.jeanbrownresearch.com/hernia/
  3. https://www.myvmc.com/diseases/hernia/#Statistics
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/public_health/seriesb_25.pdf
  5. https://www.centerwatch.com/clinical-trials/listings/condition/913/hernia/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2223000/
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3031184/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1324841/
  9. http://www.medtronic.com/us-en/patients/treatments-therapies/hernia-surgery.html
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