There are several types of hernias, all named for their location:
Femoral hernias—develop in upper thigh area
Inguinal hernias, inguinal hernias in children —develop in the groin area
Abdominal wall defects—happen in the womb when the abdomen does not fully develop
Umbilical hernia—develops near the belly button
Epigastric hernia—develops in the upper abdominal wall (between belly button and chest)
Spigelian hernia—rare and develops toward the side of the abdominal wall
Diaphragmatic hernia —birth defect in the muscle between the chest and abdominal cavities
Hiatal hernia —develops near the upper part of the stomach
Incisional hernia—develops where there is an incision from surgery
Ventral hernias—a type of incisional hernia that develops down the middle of the abdomen
When an organ or clump of fatty tissue pushes through a hole or defect in the abdominal wall, it is called a hernia. The organ or tissue is contained in a thin sack, much like a balloon.
Typically, you can see a protrusion where the hernia is located. It may be only a small bump, but hernias can also cause large bulges. Sometimes, you can temporarily hold these bulges back in with your hands.
A hernia may cause no symptoms and never need treatment. Even so, it needs to be checked by a physician because any hernia has the potential to develop into a serious condition. Hernias can cut off the blood flow – and therefore the oxygen supply – to surrounding tissues or organs, causing tremendous damage, even death.
Hernias are very common because as we age, the lining of our abdominal walls become weaker, making us more susceptible to hernias. This lining is made of connective tissue. This tissue is not muscle – it can’t be made stronger. But strengthening the outer layer of muscle can reduce stress on the abdominal wall. People who have abdominal incisions are at risk for developing a hernia as well.
Sometimes, people are just born with an abdominal weak spot, which may, or may not result in a hernia later in life.
Ongoing pressure on the abdominal cavity can sometimes cause a hernia. More commonly, though, it’s just likely to make one worse. Such pressure can result from:
- Lifting heavy objects
- Prolonged spells of heavy coughing
- Straining the bowels during bowel movement or urination
- Prior surgery
Chronic lung disease and fluid in the abdominal cavity can also weaken the abdominal wall, which can lead to a hernia.
Hernias are categorized by their location and, in some cases, by what caused them. Common types of hernias include:
Inguinal (groin) hernias occur near the crease between the abdomen and the legs. They almost always occur in males, but can occur in females as well. With this type of hernia, part of the intestine or bladder bulges into the groin.
Inguinal hernias are formed by a sack of tissue in the groin that has not completely closed off before birth. In some cases, the protruding intestine descends into the scrotum. Less commonly, in girls, an ovary can fill the sac and cause it to swell.
Femoral hernias usually occur in women, and seem to be associated with weakness in the abdominal lining caused by pregnancy and childbirth. They cause a bulge near the top of the thigh.
Umbilical hernias occur in up to 30 percent of newborns. An umbilical hernia is a protrusion at the belly button where an opening in the abdominal wall hasn’t closed before birth. If the opening does not close naturally by about age 2, surgery may be necessary.
Incisional hernias can result when abdominal surgery causes a weakness in the abdominal wall. Incisional hernias occur after about 15 percent of all abdominal surgeries, although people who are elderly or overweight are at greater risk.
Hiatal hernias occur when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and up into the chest. The esophagus is connected to the stomach through an opening in the diaphragm called the esophageal hiatus. A hiatal hernia is thought to occur when this opening is larger than normal.
A hernia may cause no symptoms at all, but often, symptoms include:
- A mass or bulge somewhere in the abdominal area
- Burning, gurgling or aching sensations at the bulge
- Pain or discomfort, especially when bending over, coughing or lifting
- A heavy or dragging sensation in the groin
- A feeling of weakness, fullness or pressure in the area
- With hiatal hernias, symptoms tend to include the symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), including heartburn, regurgitation and vomiting
Severe, continuous pain and redness can be signs that that a hernia may be strangulated (cut off from the flow of oxygen). If this happens, contact your physician immediately.
A hernia that has no symptoms will need to be monitored, but may not require surgery. Surgery is the only way to treat a hernia – it won’t just get smaller or go away over time.
Hernia repair surgery is a relatively common procedure, with about 700,000 surgeries performed in the U.S. every year. Many are done as “open” procedures through one long incision. Other repairs are done laparoscopically, using a tiny camera and special instruments inserted through small incisions in the abdomen.
At Swedish, our surgeons are experts in hernia repair, both with open and laparoscopic procedures.
This content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Swedish Medical Center. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.