A hernia is an abnormal protrusion of tissue or an organ, such as the intestine, through the wall of the cavity in which it normally resides. They occur most often in the abdomen, however are also commonly found in the groin, belly button and upper thigh areas.
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Anything that causes an increase in pressure in the abdomen can cause a hernia, including lifting heavy objects without stabilizing the abdominal muscles, diarrhea or constipation, or persistent coughing or sneezing. Although not life-threatening, surgery may be suggested to fix a hernia that's painful or enlarging.
The most common hernias are external hernias such as inguinal (groin) hernias, incision hernias, femoral hernias and umbilical (naval) hernias. External hernias create a bulge under the skin that can be seen and felt.
Inguinal hernia is the most common type of hernia, occurring when the intestines break through a weakened area in the abdominal wall or inguinal canal (found in your groin).
Umbilical hernia occurs when the intestines bulge through the abdominal wall near the belly button. This is most common in children and babies under 6 months old and usually goes away as the child’s stomach muscles develop.
Incisional hernia occurs after abdominal surgery, when the intestines push through the incision scar or surrounding tissue.
Internal hernias are rare and involve part of an organ within the abdomen pushing through an opening in the wall of another organ in the abdomen. The most frequent internal hernia is the hiatal hernia.
Hiatal hernia occurs when part of the stomach protrudes through the diaphragm and into the chest cavity. This type of hernia is most common in people aged over 50 and most often causes gastroesophageal reflux.
Heavy lifting, pregnancy, excess abdominal weight or any increased pressure within the abdomen (e.g. chronic coughing, straining to have a bowel movement) are all factors that can lead to a hernia. Less common causes that lead to hernia formation might be trauma or hereditary disorders that lead to weak connective tissue. Women often develop hernias because of weak connective tissue. Most hernia patients are male and suffer from inguinal hernias (95 % external hernias, 5 % internal hernias)
If you have a fever, are nauseous or the hernia turns a dark red or purple colour, seek medical attention immediately. This is a strangulated hernia and can be life-threatening if not treated.
Reducing the strain on your abdominal muscles can significantly lower your chances of developing a hernia. Quitting smoking, eating plenty of high-fibre foods as well as maintaining good nutrition and diet can also help prevent a hernia.
Surgery is generally only recommended when there is a risk of strangulation in the gut. In this case, open surgery or laparoscopic surgery are options available.
Open Surgery uses mesh or sutures to close the hernia. The mesh is placed either over the defect (anterior repair) or under the defect (posterior repair). At times staples are used to keep the mesh in place.
Laparoscopic Surgery uses a small camera inserted through an incision in the bellybutton to guide the surgery. The abdomen is filled with gas, enabling the surgeon to clearly see the organs, and another small incision is made to insert the surgical instruments. The hernia is repaired in the same way as in open surgery.