A hernia is a condition where tissue bulges through the muscle wall that would normally hold it in. Usually, the condition refers to intestines or fat bulging through the abdominal wall. Hernia symptoms may be mild or severe. Here are some of the common hernia types:
The epigastric region is the area between the navel and the ribs. Epigastric hernias occur when fat is pushed through the gap in the abdominal muscles. Epigastric hernias are typically small and occur in the middle of the belly from straining and weak muscles. Symptoms include feeling pressure on the abdominal wall when coughing, laughing, or straining while moving bowels. If an epigastric hernia is small, it may not cause any symptoms, but it may be necessary to correct large ones with surgery. Epigastric hernias are relatively rare and account for only 2 to 3 percent of all hernias.
The areas that femoral hernias affect include the groin and inner thigh areas. The main symptom of femoral hernias is a lump in the groin. Only between 2 and 4 percent of hernias are femoral hernias. Mainly caused by lifting heavy weights or straining during bowel movements, femoral arteries have the potential to affect blood flow in both the femoral artery and vein. Because of its potentially life-threatening consequences, femoral hernias are usually corrected with surgery as soon as possible. These hernias rarely occur in children and are more common for women than for men.
Unlike other hernias, the intestines are not involved in hiatal hernias. Instead, it is the stomach that bulges through a weak point in the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the barrier between the lungs and abdominal organs that is key for breathing. What causes this type of hernia is currently unknown. Symptoms of hiatal hernias include heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Hiatal hernias are most common among adults over 50, along with people who are pregnant or obese. Hiatal hernias are classified as type I-IV depending on where they are located. The vast majority are type I, when the point where the stomach meets the esophagus moves above the diaphragm. Treatment for minor hiatal hernias may involve simply treating the heartburn; surgery is recommended for only the most extreme cases.
An incisional hernia affects the stomach and occurs when tissues protrude through the site of an abdominal or pelvic scar from surgery. Incisional hernias mostly occur in the middle of the stomach because the abdominal wall has been weakened by surgery. Incisional hernias affect about 20 percent of abdominal surgery patients. Risk factors include smoking, obesity, and complications of surgery such as infection. People with chronic conditions like diabetes and kidney failure are particularly susceptible to incisional hernias.
The areas that inguinal hernias affect are the stomach and the intestine. The most common hernia, inguinal hernias, occur in men more often than they do in women. When combined, inguinal and femoral hernias make up most of all hernias. An inguinal hernia occurs when the small intestine or fat bulges into the groin at the top of the inner thigh; inguinal hernias usually occur on the right side. The bulge can go down into the scrotum in some cases. The bulge usually goes through the inguinal canal, the channel for the spermatic cord and blood vessels that go to the testicles. In women, the ligament that supports the womb runs through the inguinal canal, and the bulge can go into the labia. Inguinal hernias can appear similar enough to femoral hernias that are sometimes difficult to distinguish. Inguinal hernias typically require surgery because of the risk that the intestine may become incarcerated — trapped — and cause bowel obstruction or be strangulated — its blood supply cut off — which can lead to death in some cases.
With an umbilical hernia, fat bulges through a weakness in the navel area of the abdomen. Umbilical hernias typically affect children — usually infants — but they can affect adults’ rare instances. Adults who suffer from this kind of hernia tend to be obese or pregnant. There is a risk of the hernia becoming strangulated over time, so it’s usually treated with surgery.
Hernias can worsen into life-threatening conditions quickly and won’t go away on their own but can almost always be corrected. People experiencing hernia symptoms should see a doctor before they develop complications.