What is a hernia?
A hernia is the protrusion of an organ through the muscular or tissue wall that usually contains it. Although they can occur anywhere, the majority of hernias occur in the abdominal and inguinal (groin) areas.
What are the different types of hernia?
- Inguinal hernias: the inguinal area is also referred to as the groin. The inguinal canal is a tube that carries blood vessels and another anatomical structures to the genitals. An inguinal hernia arises when part of the bowel, or bladder, protrudes into the inguinal canal. These hernias are more common in men
- Femoral hernias: the femoral canal carries blood vessels and nerves to the upper thigh. A femoral hernia arises when the part of the bowel protrudes into the femoral canal. These hernias are more common in pregnant or overweight women
- Hiatus hernia: The diaphragm is a muscular structure that lies above the stomach and below the lungs and heart. It has several natural holes, which convey blood vessels and the oesophagus (the food pipe). A hiatus hernia is where the stomach protrudes through the hole that conveys the oesophagus. The stomach sits in the abdomen, so the hiatus hernia occurs when some of the stomach moves through the diaphragm into the chest.
- Umbilical hernia: The umbilicus is also called the belly button. Behind the belly button are several muscles that can become weakened. An umbilical hernia occurs when part of the gut protrudes through this weakened layer of muscles. These hernias occur in both men and women and are more common in overweight people or people who excessively cough.
What are the symptoms of a hernia?
A hernia may often cause no physical discomfort although it will normally appear as an unusual swelling or lump around the abdomen or groin. These lumps may disappear when they are pressed or when the person lies down.
Sometimes, people may feel pain in the affected area when they cough or bend over. They may also experience acid reflux or chest pain, although this is less common.
If you suddenly experience a severe sensation of pain, associated with your hernia, or if your hernia is tender to touch you should seek medical help immediately.
What treatments are available for hernias?
As there are many different types of hernia, there are several different possible diagnostic techniques:
- Some hernias, such as inguinal hernias, will be diagnosed by a physical examination. The doctor may press on your stomach or ask you to cough whilst they feel different areas of your stomach
- Some hernias, such as hiatus hernias, are not physically visible of palpable. Your doctor may use an x-ray or endoscopy to diagnose to help make a diagnosis
Some hernias require little or no treatment whereas others may require surgery.
Life-style treatments: Some hernias do not cause the patient any symptoms, and, if it is not especially large may not require any treatment. It is advised, however, that such patients maintain a healthy weight and do not eat excessively large meals. It is also advised that patients avoid smoking or eating spicy foods.
Medications: As some hernias can cause acid reflux, over-the-counter medications such as antacids may be prescribed to help alleviate any associated discomfort.
Surgery: Hernias causing continuous physical discomfort, or hernias that are quite large may require surgical treatment. Depending on the type of hernia you may have open-surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery is associated with a faster recovery time and causes less tissue scarring than open-surgery.
Can I prevent myself from getting a hernia?
Although it is not possible to prevent a hernia developing, certain life-style choices will minimise your risk of getting one, including:
- Avoiding cigarettes
- Maintain a health BMI (body-mass index)
- Lifting objects with your legs and not your back