A hernia is a protrusion of an organ or part of an organ into an abnormal location. A hernia can occur in many locations around the body but occurs most commonly through the abdominal wall.
This is the most common hernia through the abdominal wall. A bit of intra-abdominal fat or a loop of small intestine can protrude through the inguinal canal leading to a lump in the groin. An inguinal hernia is much more common in men. It can occur at any age. It can occur on one or both sides.
This is a less common type of groin hernia more common in women. A lump in the groin occurs that is slightly lower to where an inguinal hernia occurs.
These hernias are caused by weakness and/or defects in the midline of the abdomen at or near the umbilicus (belly button).
This is a hernia that occurs through a defect in the abdominal wall over a previous surgical incision.
This is a hernia that develops adjacent to a colostomy or ileostomy.
Hernias often arise in areas of inherent weakness. They may be precipitated by increases in abdominal pressure. They occasionally occur through a single traumatic event but much more commonly they occur as a gradual process over months to years. Anything that increases intra-abdominal pressure can lead to a hernia. This includes obesity, heavy strenuous activities, coughing and constipation.
Often hernias do not cause any symptoms apart from a small bulge. This is usually in hernias that can be reduced (ie the bulge can be flattened when lying down or pushed back in manually). Other hernias can cause pain or discomfort (often a dragging sensation) especially after standing for prolonged periods of time. Hernias can get bigger over time and become unsightly in some.
The most serious complication of a hernia is that of incarceration and strangulation. This is when the components of a hernia (usually small intestine) gets stuck and cannot be pushed back (incarceration). If the hernia is not reduced then the bowel can become gangrenous (strangulated). This complication presents as severe pain over a hernia (bulge) that cannot be pushed back. It is a surgical emergency and should not be ignored. Medical attention is urgent as an incarcerated bowel can start to die within 6 hours. Fortunately, most hernias are at low risk of this complication.
The majority of hernias can be diagnosed by clinical examination. Occasionally, an ultrasound (or CT scan) can help detect a hernia or is used to look for one on the opposite side.