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Hernias can appears as strange lumps from your body. They're common but the sooner you seek help, the easier they are to repair. There are 70,000 hernia repair operations each year in the UK. It's a very common problem.

What is it?

Hernia is the abnormal protrusion of an organ or tissue through a weak area in the muscle or other tissue that normally holds it in place. The term hernia is most commonly used to describe to the protrusion of the intestine through a weak area in the abdominal wall. Hernia is often referred to as a 'rupture'.

A separate condition, known as hiatus hernia, occurs when part of the stomach protrudes up through the natural opening for the oesophagus (gullet) - to pass from the chest through the abdomen. This problem is dealt with in the section on peptic ulcers.

What are the main symptoms?

If you have an inguinal hernia, the most common finding is in the swelling of the groin. The scrotum may als be enlarged. This lump will often be clearly visible beneath the skin. It may disappear when you lie down, and appear again if you cough, sneeze or strain on the toilet. Some hernias cause no pain at all, while others cause a dull aching sensation which is more pronounced during physical activity.

A strangulated hernia, which is a dangerous complication of the condition, is a medical emergency where a loop of bowel becomes trapped in the hernia defect. It generally causes intense abdominal pain and can be lethal. If dealth with quickly, complete recovery should follow. A hernia can develop very gradually, over a period of years, or it may come on suddenly. Sometimes a hernia is present at birth.

What's the risk?

Anyone can develop a hernia at any age - from the new-born to the very old. However, the following factors seem to increase the risk of abdominal hernia:

- Being male - 12 times more males than females develop groin hernias

- Obesity

- Previous abdominal surgery such as an appendoctomy or other abdominal injury

- A chronic cough, such as a smoker's cough

- Straining during bowel movements (because of constipation) or while urinating

- Straining to lift heavy objects

- Persistent sneezing, such as that caused by allergies

What causes it?

A hernia results from the protrusion of a part of the contents of the abdominal cavity (chiefly the intestines) through a weak point in the abdominal wall. The job of the abdominal wall (a sheet of muscle and tendon stretching from the ribs to the thighs) is to act as a kind of 'corset' supporting the tissue and organs within the abdomen and pelvis.

The abdominal wall has some natural weak spots - where the blood vessels serving the scrotum and leg pierce it and also in the umbilicus (navel) region. It can also be weakened by surgery, injury or any action that overstretches it or exerts undue pressure, like coughing or sneezing.

The pain and discomfort of an abdominal hernia come from the pressure of the abdominal contents upon the weak spot of the wall. Any movement causes additional pressure; that's why some hernia lumps are visible when you stand - because of the pressure exerted by gravity - and become invisible when you lie down. Such hernias are said to be 'reducible' and it is often possible to push them back inside the abdominal wall. Hernias that cause a constant bulge, whatever your position, are called non-reducible and these are the ones that are most prone to producing complications such as stangulation and obstruction and need prompt medical attention.

Over time, the abdominal contents will start to protrude even more, weakening the wall still further. In other words, hernia tends to be a progressive condition that worsens over time. Hernias do not get better on their own.

Read more on the causes and how to prevent it on our website:

1 Reply

Great information. Thanks. I had a hernia in 2004. It was an inguinal hernia. I had surgery and the surgeon used special mesh to last a lifetime. I have not had any problems or other hernias.