Could you have a hernia?
The symptoms aren't always obvious.
Beth Stambaugh Published: 3/5/2019
Hernias are more common than you might think, and many people don’t even know they have one.
About 5 percent of the population will have a hernia at some point in their lives, and there are an estimated 3 million new hernia cases diagnosed every year in the U.S.
What is a hernia?
A hernia is a hole in the muscle wall of the abdomen that can affect anyone at any age – men, women and even children. In adults, they often occur in areas of previous surgical scars, the umbilical area or in the groin.
There are many different types of hernias, but they all occur when pressure pushes body tissue (usually an intestine) through a weak spot in the muscle wall. The most common type is an inguinal hernia, which occurs in the groin area.
For some, a telltale symptom may be a bulge in the abdomen but even that isn’t always apparent.
“Many people with hernias have very few symptoms,” said Thomas Austgen, MD, a general surgeon at Baptist Medical Center Beaches. “There are a number of people who have hernias and don’t even realize it.”
Common signs of a hernia on the abdominal wall that frequently get overlooked include:
- Pain in the pelvic area, especially burning pain
- Weakness and muscle fatigue in the upper leg or groin
- Feeling full and bloated
- Pain when lifting or coughing
“If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms on a regular basis, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible,” said Matthew Modansky, MD, a family physician at Baptist Primary Care in Neptune Beach.
While the vast majority of hernia patients are men, women can have them, too. They’re sometimes are mistaken for fibroids, ovarian cysts or endometriosis. “If a woman is experiencing pelvic pain, she shouldn’t rule out the possibility of a hernia,” said Dr. Modansky. Between 2 and 5 percent of all women will develop a hernia in their lifetime.
A simple physical exam can usually determine if you have a hernia. In some cases, a CT scan may also be required. “Getting an early diagnosis is important,” said Dr. Modansky. “Some hernias can become strangulated, which means that the blood supply is cut off from the herniated tissue. This is considered a medical emergency.”
Repairing a hernia
Unfortunately, a hernia will not heal on its own. “Surgery is the most durable way to treat a hernia,” said Dr. Austgen. He recommends having surgery early on, before the hernia enlarges.
Today’s hernia repair options include procedures that are less invasive with faster recovery. These procedures can usually be done on an outpatient basis, which means no overnight hospital stay. Patients are usually able to shower the next day, and return to work three to five days after surgery.
Dr. Austgen said the likelihood of getting a hernia again once you’ve had it repaired is very low. He encourages patients to choose a surgeon who has a solid success record of hernia repair and has done them for a number of years.
Hernias can be caused by anything that increases pressure in the abdomen, such as heavy lifting, persistent coughing or sneezing or constipation. Rapid weight gain or pregnancy can also cause hernias.
Tips to reduce your chance of developing a hernia
- Maintain an ideal body weight through healthy diet and exercise.
- Eat enough fruits, vegetables and whole grains to avoid constipation.
- Bend your knees rather than bending forward when lifting heavy objects.
- Avoid lifting anything that is beyond your ability.
- See a doctor if you’re coughing persistently.
- Stop smoking – it can lead to coughing that may trigger a hernia
Visit baptisthernia.com to learn more about hernia prevention and repair.