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Is a hernia causing your stomach pains? If you’ve been experiencing stomach pain and aren’t sure why, it might be due to a hernia.

At Banner Health, we are here to help. We share the different types of hernias, their risk factors, symptoms and treatment options.   

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a bulge or lump that can happen in your body when something internal pushes or pokes through a weak spot in your muscles. 

Imagine your muscles as a strong net holding everything inside your body. If there’s a weak spot in the net (like a tiny hole), a part of your internal tissue like your intestines or fat can push through and create a lump under your skin.

Depending on the type of hernia and its location, you may or may not see this lump.

Types of hernias

Hernias usually happen in specific areas of your body:

Groin hernia (inguinal hernia): This is the most common type of hernia. It happens when a part of your intestine or abdominal tissue pushes through a weak spot of the lower belly (abdomen) into the groin area (or inguinal canal).

Femoral hernia: A femoral hernia is similar to a groin hernia but happens lower in the body. It develops in the upper part of the thigh near the groin and is less common.

Umbilical hernia: This hernia happens around your belly button. Umbilical hernias are common in babies but can also happen in adults.

Hiatal hernia: A hiatal hernia is a bit different. It happens when a part of your stomach pushes through an opening of the muscle that separates your chest and belly (the diaphragm) into your chest cavity. This can lead to problems like heartburn, indigestion and acid reflux.

Incisional hernia (ventral hernia): Sometimes after surgery, a weak spot can form in the muscles where the surgical cut was made. If tissue or organs push through this spot, it’s called an incisional hernia.

What are the symptoms of a hernia?

Hernia symptoms can vary depending on the type and location. One common sign is a visible bulge or lump, especially when you are standing or straining.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Aches, pain or pressure in the area
  • Discomfort that gets worse with activity
  • Heartburn
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Constipation or difficult bowel movements (poop)

Am I at risk for a hernia?

Hernias can affect anyone, but certain factors can increase your risk. These include:

  • Age: Hernias can happen at any age but are more common as you get older.
  • Gender: Some types of hernias are more common in men and people with penises (like inguinal hernias), while others are more common in women and people with vaginas (like femoral hernias).
  • Family history: If someone in your family has had a hernia, you may be more likely to get one.
  • Being overweight: Carrying extra weight can put increased pressure on your abdominal muscles and make hernias more likely.
  • Lifting heavy things: Regularly lifting heavy objects (like weights) can increase your risk of hernias, especially if you don’t use proper technique.
  • Chronic coughing or straining: Frequent coughing or straining (such as bronchitis or constipation) can raise the risk for hernias.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnancy and childbirth can put pressure on the abdominal wall and increase hernia risk.
  • Previous surgery: If you’ve had surgery in the past, especially in the abdominal area, it can sometimes lead to weak spots that may become hernias.

What are the signs of a hernia emergency?

Sometimes, a hernia can become an emergency if it cuts off blood supply to tissues (strangulation) or causes a blockage in the intestines (bowel obstruction).

Go to the hospital or call 911 right away if you or someone else experiences the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain
  • The area becomes red, swollen and tender
  • Vomiting
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever

How is a hernia diagnosed?

Hernias can often be felt during a physical exam. Your health care provider may also order tests like an ultrasound, barium X-ray, CT scan or endoscopy to better understand your condition.

How is a hernia treated?

The treatment for a hernia depends on its type, size and your symptoms. 

In some cases, hernias can be treated with medication and close monitoring. Your provider may also suggest changes in your diet, activity level or daily habits.

Surgical repair is often the most effective way to treat a hernia. There are two types of hernia surgeries:

  • Open surgery: Open repair surgery requires an incision to fix the hernia.
  • Laparoscopic or robotic surgery: Also known as minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon makes small cuts in the area to insert a small camera and special tools to fix the hernia.

Your provider may use surgical mesh to repair the tissue wall during surgery. Surgical mesh can be made from synthetic material or animal tissue and comes in temporary or permanent forms.

Temporary mesh gets absorbed by your body over time and works with your muscles and tissue to strengthen them. Permanent mesh provides long-term support to your muscles.

What is the outlook for successful hernia repair?

Most hernias can be treated successfully without further issues. However, they can sometimes come back, especially if you have risk factors like lifting heavy objects or straining, are overweight, smoke or have chronic lung diseases. 

Talk to your health care provider about your best treatment options and how to minimize the risk of hernia recurrence. 

Schedule an appointment

If you suspect you have a hernia or have concerns about your health, don’t wait. Schedule an appointment with one of our Banner Health specialists. We’re here to provide expert guidance and treatment options tailored to your needs.