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Polite Company or Not, Here’s What You Need to Know About Hernias

By Martha Michael


You rarely hold a discussion about hernias among polite company and, if it does come up, it’s usually in connection with a story about heavy lifting. It is not unusual, however, to discuss symptoms of a hernia in the office of a general practitioner, a surgeon, or a chiropractor.

Hernia Defined

A hernia is created when body contents such as fatty tissue or organs bulge out of containment and push through the fascia, which is a weak part of a muscle or connective tissue, says an article by WebMD. The instability that enables tissue to force its way through an opening can develop as a result of age, an increase in pressure, or it can present as a congenital condition at birth.

What follows are some of the most common hernias.

Inguinal - Approximately 96 percent of groin hernias affect the inguinal canal when the bladder or intestine pushes through your abdominal wall. It occurs mostly in men due to a weakness in the area.

Femoral - Mostly occurring among women who are obese or pregnant, a femoral hernia is caused by abdominal contents breaching the canal that carries the femoral artery into the thigh.

Incisional - Post-op patients, particularly those who are overweight or elderly, run the risk of incisional hernias that occur at the site of abdominal surgery. It occurs more often if a patient remains inactive following their procedure.

Hiatal - The upper stomach can protrude into the hiatus, which is the area where the esophagus passes through the diaphragm.

Umbilical - Somewhat common for infants, it is possible for the small intestine to breach the abdomen near the belly button. It is also found among women who have had multiple births or are overweight.

Hernias in Children

Though we associate hernias with heavy lifting and other actions taken in adulthood, there are two types of hernias found among children.

A baby can develop a weakness in the muscles of the belly in its first few months, according to an article by Stanford Children’s Health. When babies are forming in utero, they develop an inguinal canal that reaches from the abdomen to the genitals, and it typically closes just before or after birth. If the canal remains open, however, it creates a gap where a part of the intestine can breach the abdominal wall causing an inguinal hernia. An umbilical hernia is created when an opening remains within the abdominal muscles.

Risk factors for newborns include:

  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Family history
  • Premature birth
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Deformity of urinary or reproductive organs

How to Recognize a Hernia

For newborns, symptoms may be mild, such as a slight bulge in the groin or navel area. In more severe cases, infants can develop a round belly, get a fever, or begin vomiting.

Hernia patients of all ages can be asymptomatic, but the condition does not heal without treatment. An article by Johns Hopkins Medicine lists the symptoms resulting from a hernia. A ventral hernia can be detected by aching, mild pain, or a bulge in the abdomen. The pain grows with activities that strain the area of the hernia, so patients are dissuaded from running or heavy lifting.

Both men and women often suffer from stomachaches due to abdominal hernias, but most men who experience groin hernias tend to get a feeling of pressure and tugging sensation near the scrotum. Women with hernias complain of sharp pain or aching, a burning sensation, or discomfort when active. They sometimes notice a bulge at the site of the hernia.


Aside from congenital weakness of the abdominal wall, there is a broad range of incidents and conditions that contribute to developing hernias, including:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet

You can lower the chance you develop a hernia by making changes to the factors you can control such as diet, exercise, and smoking cessation. But also, don’t ignore the warning signs; a discussion with your doctor about pain or bulging is a conversation worth having.

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