An abdominal hernia is when an internal part of the body, such as the intestines, pushes through a weak part of your abdominal (tummy) wall muscle and creates a bulge or lump.
Usually, you can push the hernia back in and it disappears when you lie down, but you need to get treatment so it doesn’t get larger or become painful.
Hernias can become strangulated, which is where the tissue poking out gets trapped by the muscle.
If your hernia is firm or tender and can’t be pushed back in, or you have sudden severe pain, vomiting or difficulty passing stools (constipation) or wind, seek immediate medical help.
What is a hernia?
The word hernia means 'something coming through'. The most common place for a hernia is the abdominal wall – a large sheet of muscle and tendon that helps hold all the abdominal content in place.
If there is an area of weakness in the wall, pressure from inside the wall can cause part of the abdominal contents (ie, the intestines) to be pushed through the opening. This resulting bulge is known as a hernia.
There are several common types of hernia:
- inguinal hernias occur near your groin and are more common in men.
- femoral hernias occur where your leg joins your body and are more common in women.
- incisional hernias occur where you have a scar from surgery.
- umbilical hernias occur near your naval (belly button) and are more common in newborns or people who are obese.
- hiatus hernias occur when part of your stomach pushes up into the chest.
Hernias can affect anyone and many babies are born with hernias.
What causes a hernia?
Abdominal hernias are caused by straining that puts pressure on that area abdominal (tummy area). Pressure may come from:
- constant coughing or sneezing
- being overweight
- lifting, carrying or pushing heavy loads
- constipation, leading to straining on the toilet
Some people have weaker abdominal walls which makes them more prone to hernias.
What are the symptoms of a hernia?
You may have no symptoms, or you may feel the following:
- a lump or bulge in your abdomen (tummy) or groin
- a heavy or uncomfortable feeling in your gut, particularly when bending over
- pain or aching after exertion, such as lifting or carrying heavy objects
- digestive upsets, such as constipation.
How is a hernia diagnosed?
Your GP will physically examine you. If they are not sure what is causing the swelling, they may send you for an ultrasound.
How is a hernia treated?
Your doctor may wait to see if your hernia gets worse or they may recommend a small operation to fix the muscle wall. This is usually day surgery under local or general anaesthesia. Your abdomen will be cut open and stitches or nylon meshes used to close and reinforce the weak section of muscle. Inguinal hernias may be repaired using laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery.
Self-help and prevention
Seeing your GP is the best way of helping yourself if you have a hernia. Hernia trusses and supports are not recommended as they do not fix the cause of your hernia. Following the prevention steps below may help.
You can reduce your chances of getting a hernia if you:
- eat lots of high fibre foods to stop you getting constipated
- maintain a healthy weight
- take care when lifting heavy object by bending from your knees, not your waist
- get treatment if you have a persistent cough or sneeze
- quit smoking as this can cause persistent coughing, which can put pressure on your abdominal wall.
Talk to your GP and if you need additional support, they will recommend a counsellor.
- LeBlanc KE, LeBlanc LL, LeBlanc KA. Inguinal Hernias: Diagnosis and Management. Am Fam Physician. 2013 Jun 15;87(12):844-48. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2013/0615/p844.html
- Brooks DC, Hawn, M. Classification, clinical features and diagnosis of inguinal and femoral hernias in adults. Up to Date. http://www.uptodate.com/contents/classification-clinical-features-and-diagnosis-of-inguinal-and-femoral-hernias-in-adults
- Patient Info. Inguinal Hernias. http://patient.info/doctor/inguinal-hernias
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