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What Is a Hernia?

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  • A hernia is a condition where an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place, producing a bulge. The lump or bulge usually contains some intestinal or abdominal fatty tissue, which is enclosed in the membrane that naturally lines the inside of the cavity
  • Some hernias may run in families. There are known genetic abnormalities of collagen fibers that may be passed on from generation to another

A hernia is a condition where an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place, producing a bulge. The lump or bulge usually contains intestinal or abdominal fatty tissue typically found in the membrane lining your cavities. A hernia may be pushed back in or become unnoticeable upon lying down, although it may resurface once a person coughs.

Pain experienced by hernia patients often manifests during periods of rest, or while walking or running. However, it’s also possible to have no symptoms at all. Most of the time, a hernia isn’t life-threatening, but it doesn’t go away on its own.1 In some instances, surgery may be needed to prevent dangerous complications.2,3

Where Do Hernias Usually Appear?

A hernia can appear in different areas of the body:4,5

  • Groin — Men and women can develop either an inguinal or femoral hernia in the groin.6 Inguinal hernias are more common in men, while femoral hernias are more prevalent in women.
  • Upper part of the stomach — This occurs when a patient has a hiatal hernia, characterized by the appearance of an opening in the diaphragm that allows the upper portion of the stomach to push out of the abdominal cavity and move into the chest cavity.
  • Belly button — Most bulges near this area may be caused by an umbilical hernia, a condition usually found in newborns and infants.7
  • Surgical scar locations — People who underwent an abdominal surgery are more likely to develop an incisional hernia because of the surgical scar.

What Are the Risk Factors for a Hernia?

Some of the risk factors that have been linked to a hernia are the following:8

  • Genetics — A mismatch of collagen has been suggested to present itself among hernia patients, and this may be passed on from one generation to another.9 Hernia patients have more amounts of Type III collagen (immature and weaker) and fewer quantities of Type I (more mature and stronger).10
  • Obesity — Researchers have concluded that obese people tend to have a higher hernia risk,11 and are more prone to have another hernia even after surgery is done for the condition.12,13
  • Smoking — Multiple studies have reported that smoking is a risk factor for incisional hernia14 and can cause groin hernia recurrence.15
  • Gender — Authors of a 2008 BMJ study noted that men have a higher risk for inguinal hernias (27 percent) compared to women (3 percent).16
  • Heavy lifting — Regularly lifting heavy items or weights can place added pressure on the abdomen and trigger hernia formation.
  • Constipation — People who strain when passing stools increase their abdominal pressure, which can cause a hernia. A higher hernia risk has also been associated with a low-fiber diet, which can result in constipation.
  • Having an enlarged prostate (in men) or prolapsed bladder or cystocele (in women) — Any of the mentioned conditions may cause a man or a woman to strain harder while urinating and raise pressure within the abdomen and hernia risk.
  • Pregnancy — A 2016 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology article revealed that pregnant women may experience recurring abdominal hernias because of increased pressure in the abdomen.17
  • Premature babies — Premature infants are known to have a higher possibility for hernia.18
  • Undergoing a surgery — Wound infection, emergency surgery and post-operative cough and constipation may increase a person’s hernia risk after he or she undergoes an abdominal or pelvic surgery.
  • Steroids, immunomodulator medicines or chemotherapy — They may raise a person’s risk for an incisional hernia because they can slow down the wound healing process.
  • Coughing, bronchitis or asthma — Constant coughing tends to increase pressure on your abdominal wall. As such, people who cough because of smoking, bronchitis, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), acid reflux or post-nasal drip have a higher hernia risk.
  • Sleep apneaAn increased risk for hernia has been recorded among those with sleep apnea because of factors like poor oxygenation, impaired tissue health and snoring against a closed airway.
  • Inherited connective tissue disorders — If you’ve been diagnosed with either Ehlers-Danlos or Marfan syndrome, you may be more prone to developing a hernia.
  • DiabetesDiabetics with poorly controlled conditions who undergo abdominal or pelvic surgery may experience healing problems, and increase their risk for an incisional hernia.
  • Ascites caused by liver failure — This condition raises abdominal pressure and causes some naturally occurring holes in the abdomen to stretch out.
  • Having a previous hernia — Another hernia may appear on the opposite section of the abdomen.
  • Playing sports or experiencing a traumatic injury — If you consistently work out or play sports, you may be prone to a sports hernia.19,20

Although a hernia may cause pain, there are measures you can take to protect your body. Watching out for common symptoms, talking to your doctor about possible remedies, and practicing good lifestyle and eating habits are some of the ways you can avoid this condition.


Hernia: An Introduction

What Is Hernia?

Hernia Symptoms

Hernia Causes

Types of Hernia

Hernia Treatment

Hernia Surgery

Hernia Prevention

Hernia Diet

Hernia FAQ

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