A hernia is a sac formed by the lining of the abdomen. Part of an organ protrudes through an abnormal opening in the abdominal wall, pushing the sac in front of it. The most common type of hernia is an inguinal (groin) hernia, in which part of the intestine bulges through a weak spot in the abdominal wall near the groin. Hernias are 10 times more common in males than in females. About one in four men develop a hernia at some time in life. It will not heal on its own. It will get bigger, creating threatening complications. Repair requires surgery. Inguinal hernias are present in up to 5 percent of normal newborns and 10 percent of premature infants. Inguinal hernias may occur on one or both sides of the groin. They run in families.

There are other types of hernias, depending on the location in the abdominal wall. A femoral hernia is a bulge in the upper thigh, just below the groin. This is the only type of hernia which is more common in females than in males. A hiatal hernia occurs in the upper stomach, which pushes up into the chest. An incisional hernia can occur through a scar from previous abdominal surgery. An umbilical hernia is a bulge around the belly button where the muscles at that location don’t come together correctly.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

There are usually no symptoms until the hernia gets bigger. There may be just a sense of pressure or heaviness in the groin. The discomfort is most likely to occur after standing for long periods of time or activities which increase pressure inside the abdomen, such as heavy lifting, coughing and straining while urinating or moving the bowels. As the hernia gets bigger, it may form an abnormal bulge in the groin, which gradually gets bigger, more uncomfortable and may be tender to the touch. A portion of intestine can become trapped in the abnormal defect, twist and cut off its blood supply. It’s severely painful, tissue dies, and emergency surgery is necessary. Medical care should be sought immediately if the hernia is painful and cannot be pushed back into the abdomen, there is nausea, vomiting, or fever along with a painful hernia, and if the hernia has become red, purple, dark, or discolored.

Inguinal hernias are diagnosed by physical examination along with family history and symptoms consistent with a hernia. It may be possible to make the hernia more obvious by coughing or straining. It may be possible to push protruding intestine back into the abdomen. Sometimes a doctor will order an ultrasound or a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. Continue reading for Causes, Prevention, and Treatment Information . . .

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