The word hernia is a medical term used to describe an internal organ or structure pushing or bulging through the area in which it is normally contained. The abdominal area is the most common place for a hernia to develop and the condition can affect any gender of any age but happens more often to those with weak abdominal muscles.
Common Causes of HerniasMost hernias are caused by a weakness of the muscle wall that holds in the internal organ. This weakness can be hereditary, present at birth, or caused by strain or injury. Other conditions that can further weaken the wall and lead to hernias are heavy lifting, extreme straining during a bowel movement, excessive and laborious coughing, lung disease, and excess fluid in the abdominal cavity.
Types of HerniasThere are numerous types of hernias that can develop in the body. The type usually depends on the location in the body and the circumstances of its formation. These hernia types include inguinal, umbilical, incisional, hiatal, femoral, spigelian, obturator, and epigastric.
Inguinal hernias are the most common type of abdominal hernia making up almost two-thirds of all abdominal hernia cases. This type of hernia develops in the area or crease between the top of the thigh and the torso. There are two main types of inguinal hernias- indirect and direct. Indirect inguinal hernias develop when the pathway made by the testicles from the abdomen to the scrotum does not close before birth. As a person ages this open area can provide a path for the hernial sac to distend. A direct inguinal hernia develops where the abdominal wall is slightly thinner, and thus more susceptible to separating.
Umbilical hernias can be present at birth and usually develop in an area of abdominal wall that fails to close properly before birth. However, this area in the abdominal wall is usually weaker throughout life and hernias can easily develop here in the elderly or in women who have given birth.
A weakening of the abdominal wall after surgery causes an incisional hernia. Although the wall usually mends itself fully after surgery, the healing process can produce a weak spot that is prone to separating or bulging.
A hiatal hernia occurs when there is a flaw in the diaphragm. In this instance a small opening allows the protrusion of the upper part of the stomach into the chest.
A femoral hernia occurs in the femoral canal. This canal forms the pathway for the femoral artery, vein, and nerve to connect from the abdominal area to the thigh. If this normally small canal increases in size it can allow a space for the intestines to bulge out of their usual space. This bulging results in a hernia in the thigh.
The last three types of hernias- spigelian, obturator, and epigastric- are very rare. The spigelian hernia occurs at a weak point along the rectus abdominal muscle. The obturator hernia occurs mostly in women and is characterised by a bulge from the pelvic cavity through the pelvic bone. Finally, an epigastric hernia presents between the lower part of the rib cage and the navel. These hernias are caused by a weakening in the abdominal wall and allow fatty tissue to protrude through the wall.
Signs and SymptomsDepending on the type of hernia present and its location the symptoms of a hernia can range from no pain or side effects at all to extreme pain and very noticeable bulges. Common signs and symptoms that could indicate a hernia include:
- A swollen protrusion in the abdomen.
- Abdominal pain.
- Back pain.
- Tenderness at the site of the bulge.
- Organ function impairment (which can lead to pain, especially if the blood supply to the organ is cut off).
- General feelings of illness.
Treatment for HerniasThe most common form of hernia treatment is surgery. In this procedure the weakened wall is cut to allow the movement of the protruded organ back into its original cavity. Then, the area of weakness and the incision are both sutured shut to allow healing. Sometimes, in the case of extremely weakened muscle walls, additional surgery may be needed to reinforce the area.
Not all hernias require immediate medical attention. However, if left unattended the hernia could lead to other, more serious health conditions. If you suspect a hernia it is best to schedule a visit with your doctor as soon as possible to discuss possible treatment plans and options.