Hernias: Types, Causes, and When to See a Doctor

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Hernias can happen to anyone. Dr. C. Andrew Heiskell, Mon Health Medical Center General Surgeon, discusses the different types of hernias, in addition to their causes, treatments, and when you should see a doctor.

What is a hernia?

A hernia is a bulge caused by an organ, often the intestine, pushing through a hole or weak spot in the surrounding muscle. And while some hernias may cause pain or other symptoms, many are harmless and pain-free, says Dr. Heiskell.

“Any time there’s a weakness in the abdominal cavity, plus added stress or pressure in that area, you’re at risk for a hernia,” says Dr. Heiskell. “There are several types of hernias caused by different factors, and symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on which type you have.”

Different types of hernias

Common types of hernias, according to Dr. Heiskell, include:

  • Inguinal hernia: Inguinal hernias appear near the groin. They are one of the most commonly occurring types of hernias, and most often develop in men.
  • Incisional hernia: Previous abdominal surgery can weaken surrounding muscles, leading to an incisional hernia near the surgical scar.
  • Femoral hernia: Femoral hernias appear in the groin or thigh areas, near the femoral artery. They’re more common in women, especially those who are pregnant or overweight.
  • Umbilical hernia: With an umbilical hernia, you’ll notice a bulge near the belly button. It is most common in newborns and children, but can sometimes occur in adults, too.
  • Hiatal hernia: A hiatus or hiatus hernia occurs when the stomach pushes through the abdominal wall and into the chest cavity.

What causes a hernia?

A hernia develops when pressure pushes the organ or intestine through an opening or weak spot of muscle. They usually occur due to circumstances later in life, but can be present at birth.

Causes of hernias

According to Dr. Heiskell, anything that places additional pressure on the abdomen can increase your chances of a hernia, including:

  • Frequently lifting heavy objects
  • Pregnancy
  • Persistent coughing or sneezing
  • Frequent constipation
  • Obesity
  • Recent surgery

When to see a doctor?

According to Dr. Heiskell, treatments for hernias vary. Many symptomless hernias don’t require surgery—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t tell your doctor.

“If you suspect you have a hernia, make an appointment with your provider,” says Dr. Heiskell. “In many cases, you may be able to wait and watch—but if the hernia is severe and causes dangerous symptoms, your doctor may suggest surgery.”

Some types of hernias, like the femoral hernia, can cut off vital blood supply to certain areas of surrounding tissue. Dr. Heiskell suggests seeing a doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms, which may indicate a medical emergency:

  • Inability to push the hernia back in
  • Red, purple or dark appearance on the hernia
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever
  • Severe pain
  • Inability to have bowel movements or pass gas

Schedule an appointment with Dr. Heiskell.