Hernia Causes and Symptoms
Hernias are a common condition that typically occurs due to muscle weakness or repeated strain. Receiving treatment for hernias is essential. Without treatment, they can enlarge and lead to potentially life-threatening complications. Understanding the causes and symptoms of a hernia can reduce your risk of developing one and mean you seek medical advice sooner rather than later.
What is a hernia?
A hernia is a medical term when one of your organs pushes through muscle or tissue and causes a lump. Many hernias occur in your abdomen and are caused by your intestine going through your abdominal wall. You can often move the bulge back in or it may disappear when you lie down. However, this doesn’t solve the internal issue and it will come back as soon as you release the pressure.
Hernias are not usually a cause for concern right away. But if left untreated, they can lead to strangulation — where the hernia cuts off the blood supply to the area where the organ is protruding. A strangulated hernia can be life-threatening, which is why you must seek treatment for your hernia.
Types of hernia
There are different types of hernia you can develop. The most common are:
- Inguinal/femoral hernia – these occur when part of your intestine pokes into your groin and causes a lump at the top of your inner thigh. The difference between a femoral and inguinal hernia is the protrusion’s location. A femoral hernia will pass below an area of your pubic bone, whereas an inguinal hernia will pass above it.
- Hiatus hernia – occurs when part of your stomach pushes into your chest through your diaphragm.
- Umbilical hernia – develops when fatty tissue or part of your bowel pokes through near your belly button.
What causes a hernia?
The leading cause of a hernia is a weakening of muscle, i.e. your abdominal wall. Repeated stress or strain during exercise, heavy lifting or coughing can cause this weakening.
Hernias can also be caused by:
- Damage from surgery or an injury
- Congenital conditions present from birth
Hernia signs and symptoms
The most common (and noticeable) sign you have a hernia is a new lump or bulge in your navel or groin area.
Other symptoms of a hernia include:
- Persistent aching
- Pain when coughing, straining or bending
- A bloated or feeling of uncomfortable fullness
It’s always essential to have your doctor check any new bulges or symptoms to ensure you receive an accurate diagnosis and the correct treatment for your needs.
Hernia risk factors
Some people are at a higher risk of developing a hernia than others.
Risk factors for hernias include:
- Chronic coughs
- Cystic fibrosis
- Chronic constipation
- Being overweight
- Multiple pregnancies
- A family history of hernias
- Poorly or uncontrolled diabetes
- Autoimmune diseases
Some types of hernia are more common in different genders, too. For example, inguinal hernias are more common in men and femoral hernias are more common in women.
These risk factors do not guarantee hernia development but can increase your risk.
When is a hernia an emergency?
There are times when a hernia is a medical emergency. If it becomes strangulated, you need immediate medical assistance.
If you experience any of the below symptoms alongside your usual hernia symptoms, call 999 immediately:
- Vomiting or intense nausea
- Worsening pain
- Difficulty emptying your bowels
- A fever
- Racing heart rate
- A painful bulge that doesn’t disappear when lying down or you cannot press back
- Severe bloating
How is a hernia diagnosed?
Diagnosing a hernia is relatively straightforward. First, you will undergo a physical examination of the herniated area. The doctor may ask you to cough while pressing gently onto the bulge. This is often enough to make a diagnosis.
Sometimes, your doctor will refer you for an ultrasound to confirm your diagnosis. Ultrasounds are painless imaging tests that generate images using high-frequency sound waves. These images are invaluable in understanding how complex your hernia is so doctors can take the correct treatment approach.
What is the treatment for a hernia?
Physiotherapy that includes a soft tissue massage can help the protruding organ return to its original position. However, this is not suited to all hernias, and it’s not generally effective.
The number one treatment for hernias is surgery. However, several factors must be considered before undergoing hernia repair surgery.
These factors include:
- The type of hernia you have – some are more likely to become strangulated
- If your hernia contains part of your bowel, muscle or tissue, there can be a risk of strangulation
- The severity of your symptoms and whether they affect your daily life
- Your overall health and if surgery is too risky because of it
Hernias will not get better without surgery. This does not mean it will get worse, but there is no guarantee it will remain the same either.
Hernia repair surgery
To repair your hernia, the surgeon gently pushes back the protruding organ and uses a medical-grade mesh to strengthen your abdominal wall. Mr Achal Khanna performs hernia repair surgery using the latest surgical techniques — laparoscopic and robotic.
Hernias are not free from complications — especially if they remain untreated. Strangulation is potentially life-threatening as it can lead to gangrene (death of the tissue when the blood supply is cut off). It is also a medical emergency. However, there is another potential complication called incarceration.
Incarceration occurs when the protruding tissue cannot return to its regular position without surgery. If left untreated, the incarcerated hernia could become strangulated. So, you must have your hernia assessed and treated immediately.
If you are experiencing symptoms of a hernia and want to find relief, contact Mr Achal Khanna. He is an expert in hernia repair surgery and can provide you with the patient-centric approach to treatment you deserve.