Imagine you're doing some heavy lifting. Everything is going according to plan when disaster strikes; you’ve suffered an injury. You feel severe pain in your groin, chest, or abdomen. You may be experiencing what's called a hernia.
A hernia occurs when an organ or fatty tissue pushes through a weak spot in the abdominal wall. This can happen while partaking in strenuous physical activity (like lifting heavy objects) or even during pregnancy. The leading cause of hernias is weakened muscles, which may have been present since birth or have become that way over time and repeated strain on the abdominal and groin area. Hernias at prior surgical sites are also common as well. Hernias can be mild annoyances or full-blown life-threatening conditions.
Hernias are unique to the individual experiencing it, and generally, severity is dependent on the affected area of the body or organ, symptoms, and a person’s overall state of health. Some hernias cause very few symptoms, while others can become serious medical emergencies.
Inguinal hernias are the most common type of hernias. This is when the intestines push through the abdominal wall in the groin, resulting in a prominent bulge on the body and pain during usual daily activities.
Inguinal hernias cause considerable discomfort, pain, and burning sensations around the pubic bone and groin area. They are more common in men but occur in both men and women.
An umbilical hernia occurs at the bellybutton and can either be present from birth or develop over time. They can require surgery if they become painful or enlarge over time.
Umbilical hernias can also affect women who have had multiple pregnancies.
Hiatal hernias occur when your stomach bulges through a part of your diaphragm. The main symptom of a hiatal hernia is heartburn, but patients may also experience early satiety (feel full fast) or difficulty in eating and digesting solid foods.
These hernias occur at a site of prior surgery due to weakened tissues and improper healing in the area.
A femoral hernia occurs near the groin or inner thigh. Femoral hernias all require surgical repair because they are associated with high rates of intestinal incarceration and strangulation. They can sometimes be difficult to differentiate from inguinal hernias.
Not all hernias require surgery. Oftentimes, they will remain stable for years at a time, and they have a low risk of intestinal obstruction. However, hernias will never resolve on their own, and over time most are likely to enlarge in size.
When a hernia becomes painful, grows in size, or is deemed to put a patient at risk of intestinal obstruction, surgery may be required. Hernias can be extremely painful, making surgery the best option for alleviating any issues.
Hernias can be repaired in multiple ways, depending on the situation, location, and size of the hernia. The most common methods of repair are through open surgery or minimally invasive (laparoscopic or robotic) surgery.
With open hernia repair surgery, the doctor creates an incision over the hernia and reduces it back into the body. The surgeon then repairs the affected area with stitches to recreate the abdominal wall, and in most circumstances will place a surgical mesh to help prevent recurrence.
With laparoscopic hernia repair, a doctor uses smaller incisions, often less than 1 cm in length, to place a camera and instruments inside the abdomen. The abdomen is then inflated with carbon dioxide to increase working space, and the hernia is repaired in a similar way to open surgery, with sutures and a mesh.
Some benefits of laparoscopic hernia repair include:
This form of hernia repair is almost identical to laparoscopic hernia repair. Here, the surgeon uses robotic surgical instruments from a console and also performs the surgery through small incisions.
“While robotic surgery takes the same surgical approach as laparoscopic surgery, it offers the surgeon better visualization and more precision than a typical laparoscopic repair,” says Summit Health general surgeon Collin Creange, MD.
Depending on the type and severity of the hernia, there can be various symptoms to watch out for, the most prevalent being discomfort.
At worst, a person may feel extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, and bowel obstruction.
Be sure to seek medical care if a bulge turns purple, as this can be a sign of blood being cut off from the organ, causing a true medical emergency.
Other symptoms include:
- Pressure on the affected areas
- Trouble swallowing
Those most at risk for hernias are older patients, patients who are overweight, and those who smoke. Those with already weak abdomen walls or muscles are also at higher risk. Regardless of age, if you partake in continuous strenuous activity or have a persistent cough, your risk of hernias increases.
Other risk factors include:
- Old age
- Family history of hernias
- Constant straining
- Prior hernias
- Premature birth
- Persistent coughing
If you are concerned that you have a hernia or would like to discuss surgery to potentially fix a known hernia, you should discuss the possibility with your doctor.
For more information and appointment booking, call 908-273-4300.