A hernia is a gap in the strong tissue that holds muscles in place. When the inside layers of your abdominal muscles have weakened and resulted in a bulge or tear, a hernia occurs. The inner lining of your abdomen pushes through the weakened area of your abdomen, much like an inner tube pushing through a busted tire. This situation creates a sac inside your abdomen that can allow a loop of your intestine or abdominal tissue to push through it. If you have a hernia, it could cause severe discomfort, pain, and other serious problems that could require emergency surgery. Both men and women get hernias. You can be born with a hernia. Most people develop them over time.
A hernia, unfortunately, does not get better over time, and it will not go away by itself. There are no exercises or physical therapy regimens that can make a hernia go away.
What Causes A Hernia?
Hernias are caused by a combination of muscle strain and muscle weakness. Depending on the cause of it, a hernia can develop quickly or over a long period. Some common causes of muscle weakness are:
- Chronic Coughing
- Congenital Defect: In some people, their abdominal wall failed to close properly while they were in the womb.
Some factors that strain your body and could cause a hernia (especially if your muscles are weak):
- Damage from Injury or Surgery
- Fluid in the Abdomen
- Heavy Weight Lifting
- Suddenly Gaining Weight
- Persistent Sneezing or Coughing
Increasing Your Risk of a Hernia
- Chronic Constipation
- Chronic Cough
- Cystic Fibrosis
- Family History of Hernias
- Overweight or Obese
There are four types of hernias:
- Hiatal – This type of a hernia occurs when part of your stomach protrudes upwards through your diaphragm and into your chest. This kind of a hernia is most common in patients over fifty years old. Hiatal hernias always cause gastroesophageal reflux, causing a burning sensation in the esophagus.
- Incisional – This type of a hernia can occur after you have surgery and your intestines push through the incision scar or the weakened tissue surrounding the scar.
- Inguinal – The most common hernia. 70% of all hernias are inguinal. This type of a hernia occurs when your intestines push through a weak spot or tear in your lower abdominal wall, usually your inguinal canal. Your inguinal canal is found in your groin. In men, this canal is the area where the spermatic cord holds up the testicles. In women, this canal contains a ligament that helps to hold the uterus in place. Men are more prone to this type of hernia because shortly after they are born their testicles descend through the inguinal canal, and this canal is supposed to close completely behind the. Sometimes it does not close properly and leaves a weakened area prone to hernias.
- Umbilical – This type of a hernia occurs in children and babies under six months old. If you notice a bulge in your child’s belly button, especially while they are crying, their intestines may be bulging forcefully through the abdominal area near the belly button. This type of a hernia is the only kind that usually goes away on its own. By the time your child is one-year-old, it should be gone, but if it hasn’t passed by then, they may need surgery.
Symptoms of a Hernia
The most common hernia symptom is the presence of a bulge in the affected area. If your hernia is inguinal, you may notice a lump on either side of your pubic bone. Other symptoms you may experience if you are suffering from a hernia:
- Acid Reflux
- Burning, Gurgling or Aching sensations
- Chest Pain
- Difficulty Swallowing
- Pain or Discomfort in the affected area, especially when bending over, coughing, or lifting.
- Weakness, pressure, or feeling a heaviness in the abdomen.
Diagnosing a Hernia
- Hiatal hernias are diagnosed with a barium x-ray, which is a series of x-ray photos of your digestive tract that are recorded after you drink a barium solution. The Barium shows up well on the X-ray images and allows the doctor to look at your digestive tract in great detail. They may also perform an endoscopy, which is a procedure that involves inserting a small camera attached to a tube down your throat and into your esophagus and stomach.
- Inguinal or incisional hernias are usually diagnosed through a physical exam by a physician. They will feel for a bulge in your abdomen or groin that becomes larger when you stand, cough, or strain.
- Umbilical hernias are usually diagnosed by ultrasound.
Types of Hernia Surgery
- Laparoscopic: Especially useful for smaller hernias. Your surgeon will make three or four small incisions near your navel. A laparoscope, which is a fiber-optic tube with a small camera on one end, is inserted through one of the openings, allowing the surgeon to view this area on a tv monitor. Your surgeon will perform the procedure using tiny instruments that are inserted through the other openings made in your abdomen. He will position the mesh and secure it, then remove the tools and close your holes with a stitch or two, or with some surgical tape.
- Mesh Repair: For this type of hernia surgery, a surgeon will position a piece of mesh to reinforce the area around your hernia and fix it in place with sutures or staples.
- Open Tension Repair: This is the best surgery for large, difficult hernias. A surgeon will make an incision in your abdomen ranging from three to six inches, pull together the edges of the healthy tissue around the area and sew them with sutures. Then they will close your incision with sutures that dissolve or abdominal adhesive.
When you wake up, you’ll be give something small to eat and the staff will help you walk around a little. You need a trusted person to give you a ride home, and you may also need someone to stay with you for your first night of recovery. Plan to rest for the first few days after surgery. Have a pillow handy to put over your abdomen for support in case you need to cough, sneeze, or vomit. Depending on your job, a full recovery may take anywhere from one week to six weeks.
Hernias can be scary, but they are treatable with surgery.
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