What is a Hernia?
A hernia occurs when an internal organ pushes through an opening or tear in the wall of muscle or connective tissue (fascia) that normally keeps the organ in place. Most hernias occur within the abdomen between the chest and hips, although others can form in the groin or upper thigh areas.
Though some hernias have no known cause, most are caused by increased pressure within the abdomen. The following are all known risk factors for hernia:
- A weak spot in the abdominal wall, present from birth or acquired later in life
- A previous hernia repair or other surgery
- Lifting heavy objects, especially without stabilizing the abdominal muscles
- Excessive straining during bowel movements, constipation, or diarrhea
- Straining during urination due to an enlarged prostate
- Strenuous activity, such as heavy lifting
- Chronic coughing
- Chronic or hard sneezing
Common Types of Hernias
Although there are many forms of hernias, many are rare. 75 to 85 percent of all hernias are either inguinal or femoral. The most common types of hernias are:
- Inguinal hernia
- Most common
- Affects men more than women
- Part of the intestine or fatty tissue protrudes into the groin at the top of the inner thigh
- Can be congenital defect
- Femoral hernia
- Less common than inguinal hernias
- Mainly affect older women
- Part of the intestine or fatty tissue pushes through into groin area at top of inner thigh
- Hiatal hernia (hiatus hernia)
- Part of the stomach protrudes through an opening in diaphragm up into the chest cavity
- “Invisible” hernia – no bulges appear on outside of body
- Umbilical hernia
- Fatty tissue or part of the intestine pushes through the abdomen near the belly button
- Can be congenital defect
The congenital defect that makes some people susceptible to an inguinal or umbilical hernia cannot be prevented. However, you can take precautions to prevent non-congenital hernias, which are the most common hernias. Some measures for hernia prevention include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Staying in shape with regular exercise
- Eating high-fiber foods such as vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, to help prevent constipation and straining
- Carefully lifting heavy objects with proper posture (always bend from your knees); or, avoid heavy lifting altogether
- Stop smoking to avoid chronic cough
Certain exercises have also been proven to help avoid a hernia. You must be careful with your exercise program, especially if you are at risk for developing a hernia, as some types of exercise may put too much pressure on the abdomen. Helpful hernia prevention exercises include:
- Aerobic activities, like swimming, walking, running or cycling
- Light weights
- Yoga and Pilates
- Sit-ups or crunches
Exercises to avoid include any kind of jumping exercises and squats. These exercises can increase pressure on your abdominal wall. Fast movements can also lead to muscle tearing.
Treatment Options for Hernias
Except for some cases of congenital hernias in children, hernias are unable to heal on their own and almost always get worse over time. Though immediate treatment may not be required, the longer you wait for treatment, the less surgical options will be available. Also, dangerous complications may develop if a hernia is left untreated, such as strangulation of the herniated organ and tissue death.
Many hernias may be repaired using minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery, using small incisions and a laparoscope, but some hernias may require open surgery. Open surgery requires a larger incision over the repair area. The protruding organ or tissue is pushed back into place and the muscle wall stitched back together, sometimes using a mesh to increase its strength.
Robotic-assisted hernia surgery is also minimally invasive. Robotic surgery is performed by a surgeon manipulating individual robotic arms and a camera while seated at a console. Although robotic surgery can be used for some smaller hernias or weak areas, it can now also be used to reconstruct the abdominal wall.
The best approach for your hernia will be made by your surgeon. As with any surgery, each type has its advantages and disadvantages and each carries associated risks and complications.
Warning: Possible Increased Risk During COVID-19 Pandemic
If you become infected with COVID-19, you may develop respiratory problems, including chronic cough and/or strenuous coughing. Watch for signs of a hernia if you experience these symptoms. Essential employees in certain professions where heavy lifting is involved are also at risk for developing a hernia, such as construction and all medical professions involving lifting patients and moving heavy equipment.
Even if you are not sick, you may be staying at home due to social distancing measures. Many people may be using this time to exercise more or complete home improvement projects. If you were not already used to a strenuous workout routine, this could be a risk factor for developing a hernia, especially if you have a co-existing risk factor. You should always check with your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.
When completing tasks and projects around the house, be sure to stabilize your abdominal muscles and use proper lifting techniques. Do not attempt to lift objects that exceed your normal lifting strength.
If you suspect you have a hernia, request an appointment today with one of our doctors. Advanced Laparoscopic Associates is also scheduling telemedicine appointments to avoid any risk of disease transmission. Your safety and health are always our top priority.