A hernia is the protrusion of an internal body part through a muscle or surrounding tissue. This can happen through a rupture, tear, or weakness in the structure.
Many believe hernias are the result of lifting heavy objects, but there are several causes, including a natural weakness in the abdominal wall or inguinal or femoral canal, overexertion, coughing, surgery, or trauma.
An estimated 5 million persons in the U.S. have some type of hernia, but only 750,000 people seek medical attention each year. Hernias can greatly impact a person’s quality of life as the pain associated with hernias can prevent people from engaging in activities that they normally love to do. Ignoring symptoms can also lead to life-threatening complications.
Hernias can occur in both men and women of all ages, as well as in children. However, hernias tend to be more common in men. The most common type of hernias for men are called inguinal hernias which occur mostly in the groin area where the abdominal folds meet the thighs.
Women may be more prone to develop hernias at the top of the thigh, often resulting from the strain of pregnancy and childbirth.
Umbilical hernias are most commonly seen in infants, and generally appear as a protrusion in the naval area. Umbilical hernias in infants are less troublesome than other types of hernias, since they tend to close without any treatment by the time the child is 3-4 years old.
Symptoms of a hernia
Generally, individuals notice a small lump somewhere in the groin or abdominal area. Many hernias are reducible, which means the tissue can be pushed gently back into its normal place. If a bulge does not resolve itself or if pain develops at the site, seek medical treatment.
Other symptoms include:
· Burning, gurgling or aching in the area of the hernia bulge
· Weakness, pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
· Chest pain
· Difficulty swallowing
· Acid reflux
If left unattended, the protrusion through the hole or gap can cause increasing amounts of pain, as more of the abdominal tissue pushes through the gap. As long as the hernia is reducible, it is not considered dangerous, but it can still put pressure on the surrounding tissue. A non-reducible hernia can become life-threatening if a part of the bulging tissue becomes trapped and circulation is cut off to the tissue.
With the exception of umbilical hernias in infants, hernias will not go away on their own. It can take months or even years to worsen. Suspected hernias in children should be checked by a doctor because of the possible danger of strangulation. In the short term, reducing strenuous physical activity, losing weight, and/or wearing a truss can lessen the discomfort caused by a hernia. Ultimately, the only way to fix a hernia is with surgery.
To have a physician check a possible hernia, contact Griffin Faculty Physician Surgical Services at (203) 732-3443 or visit griffinfacultyphysicians.org. Depending on the health insurance, a referral by a primary care physician may be required before speaking with a surgeon.