A hernia occurs when an internal organ pushes through a weak area in the muscle or tissue that should hold the organs in place. Most hernias occur in the abdomen, but they can also develop in groin area. Although a hernia isn’t immediately dangerous to your health, the symptoms can be painful. Proper treatment is required to prevent further complications.
At The University of Kansas Health System, our skilled team can properly assess your hernia symptoms to recommend the best course of treatment. If hernia surgery is necessary, we offer the most advanced, minimally invasive surgical options for improved outcomes and a faster, easier recovery.
What is a hernia?
The internal organs and intestines are held in place by muscles and other tissues. In some cases, muscles can weaken or separate enough that the organ pushes outward, causing a visible bulge. Although a hernia on its own isn’t life-threatening, an untreated hernia can worsen and cause severe complications.
Types of hernia
The different types of hernia are named based on the location where each occurs:
- An epigastric hernia develops above the navel and below the rib cage
- A femoral hernia occurs in the groin or upper thigh
- A hiatal hernia is located in the diaphragm, the muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal organs
- An incisional hernia is when a hernia develops at the site of an incision after surgery
- An inguinal hernia, the most common type of hernia, develops in the lower abdomen
- Umbilical hernias occur in or around the navel
A ventral hernia is any hernia that occurs in the abdominal wall. Umbilical, epigastric and inguinal hernias are all types of ventral hernias.
Hernia symptoms and risks
Hernia symptoms include:
- A bulge in the abdomen, groin or upper thigh area that becomes more pronounced if you stand upright or cough
- A sensation of weakness, pressure or heaviness in your groin area
- Localized pain that worsens when you bend over, lift something or cough
- Pain at the site of the bulge
If the hernia becomes strangulated (trapped), symptoms are more severe and can be life-threatening:
- A hernia bulge that darkens to red or purple
- Inability to pass stools or gas
- Nausea or vomiting
- Sudden pain that rapidly worsens
Not all hernias have an apparent cause. Hernias can be congenital (present at birth) or they can occur later in life. Possible risks of developing a hernia include:
- Chronic coughing or sneezing
- Existing weakness in the abdominal wall
- Strenuous activity, such as lifting
Older Caucasian men are at greatest risk of getting hernias. However, pregnancy can weaken the abdominal muscles and increase hernia risks as well.
Hernia diagnosis and screening
For a small hernia that doesn’t cause symptoms that interfere with your daily life, your doctor may recommend a watchful “wait and see” approach. Painful hernia symptoms or a hernia that continues enlarging typically require surgery to correct: