What is Hernia?
Medikoe Wellness Expert
80 feet road indira nagar, Bengaluru Feb 10, 2017
A hernia is a condition wherein an organ bulges and pushes its way through an opening in the abdomen or tissue/muscle that is supposed to hold it in the proper place. An example of this would be the intestine breaking through the abdomen wall. Though most commonly seen to happen in the abdomen, a hernia can also affect the areas of the belly button, upper thigh, and the region near the groin. They usually don't pose a threat to life, but if medical intervention isn't timely, it can certainly lead to other major complications.
The common types of hernia
- Inguinal Hernia: These are the most common, accounting for almost 70 per cent of the hernias. This occurs when the intestine bulges and pushes through an opening or a tear in the lower abdomen wall, mostly inside the inguinal canal. This canal is present in the groin. Inguinal hernias are more common in men as compared to women because of the fact that in men, the testicles descend through the inguinal canal immediately after birth, and then the canal closes behind them. However, it may happen that the canal doesn't close properly, thus leaving behind a weak area that is vulnerable to hernias.
- Hiatal Hernia: This occurs when a part of the stomach protrudes all the way up to the chest through your diaphragm. The diaphragm separates the organs present in the chest from those in the abdomen. In children, it is most likely to be a congenital defect; but it's mostly observed in people who are 50 years old or above. These types of hernias are often the cause behind GERD (Gastro-esophageal Reflux Disease).
- Umbilical Hernia: This happens in infants below six months. In this case, their intestines push through the abdomen wall near the navel. A distinct bulge is noticeable either in or near their navel, especially when the child is crying. Generally, around the time the infant completes the first year of its life, the umbilical hernia resolves itself. If it doesn't, surgery might be required to address the condition.
- Incisional Hernia: These are most likely to develop post any surgery of the abdomen. In this case, the intestine might bulge and push its way through the incisional scar or any surrounding tissue.
What causes hernias?
Both strain and muscle weakness usually causes a hernia. The time taken by a hernia to develop depends on the cause.
Factors that contribute to muscle weakness are:
- A congenital defect such as the abdomen will not close properly inside the mother's womb
- Coughing that is chronic
- Damage from surgery or an injury
Strain can be the result of various factors such as pregnancy, constipation, ascites (presence of fluid inside the abdomen), lifting heavy weights, sudden weight gain, sneezing or coughing that lasts for a long period of time, etc.
What are the common signs of a Hernia?
The most commonly observed sign is the formation of a lump/bulge in the area that has been affected. An inguinal hernia throws up the symptom of a lump near the pubic bone. You will be able to feel a hernia when you touch the area while standing up. A hernia in a child can be detected by feeling the bulge when it is crying. In the case of an umbilical hernia, the lump or the bulge is usually the only symptom.
Inguinal Hernia symptoms
- Discomfort in the area that has been affected (generally the lower region of the abdomen). This discomfort or pain is usually the worst while lifting something heavy or bending.
- A sensation of abdominal heaviness or weakness
- Aching or burning near the lump/bulge
Hiatal Hernia symptoms
- Gastro-oesophagal reflux (a condition characterized by the stomach acids moving backwards into the oesophagus, thus resulting in a burning sensation)
- Swallowing difficulties
- Chest pain
In a few cases, hernias can be symptomless. In such a scenario, the hernia is more likely to be detected when you go for a routine check-up or any health check-up for other problems.
What should you do next?
Next, you should make certain changes in your lifestyle right away! Lifestyle changes can usually take care of all the symptoms related to a Hiatal hernia. You should avoid having large meals at a go, lying down almost immediately after eating and must try and keep your body weight within healthy limits. Stay away from tomato-based or other spicy foods, which could lead to acid reflux. Give up on smoking and cut down on consumption of alcohol.
Hiatal hernia usually warrants the usage of OTC and other prescription medications that lower the stomach acids and ease general discomfort. The medications include H-2 receptor blockers, antacids and PPI (proton pump inhibitors).
If all of the above-mentioned methods fail to bring results, surgery becomes the last line of defence. Generally, surgery is opted for if the pain doesn't reduce over time and the hernia continues to grow in size. The hole within the walls of the abdomen is sewn with the help of a surgical mesh. Either a laparoscopic or open surgery is carried out to treat a hernia. Laparoscopic surgery is a minimally invasive surgery that doesn't require large incisions. Also, since it is minimally invasive, laparoscopic surgery poses fewer risks of damage to the surrounding organ/tissue. On the other hand, open surgery requires a longer downtime (about six weeks). But in laparoscopic surgery, you run the risk of a hernia recurring. Additionally, laparoscopic surgery isn't suitable for all types of hernias, especially when a part of the intestine descends into your scrotum.
What can you do to prevent a hernia?
Muscle weakness can't really be prevented. But the strain you subject your body to can certainly be managed and reduced. The basic tips are:
- Cut down on smoking and consuming tobacco in general
- Treat a persistent cough right away
- Keep your body weight in the healthy range
- Don't strain yourself while passing bowels or urinating
- Don't lift heavyweights
It is vital to know and identify the initial symptoms of a hernia. A hernia that hasn't been treated will not resolve in itself. But with timely medical intervention and by incorporating lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risks and prevent future complications.
How to treat a Hernia?
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise your core muscles to strengthen them.
- Do not smoke.
- Avoid lifting heavy objects. If you have to lift, use your legs rather than your back.
- Eat high-fibre foods to avoid constipation and straining when you clear your bowel.
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