A hernia occurs when there is a weakness in the layers of the abdominal wall and abdominal contents (such as part of the intestines) protrude through this weakness.

What is a hernia?

An abdominal hernia is an abnormal protrusion of abdominal contents (bowel, fat) through a defect in the muscle wall of the abdomen. The wall has weakened to the point that it no longer can contain the object inside the cavity. In simple speak, “something pokes out from within”.

Just about any structure that lies freely in the abdomen or pelvis can herniate out of the cavity.

What are the symptoms of a hernia?

The main symptom of a hernia is a bulge or lump in the affected area.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Pain of discomfort in the affected area, especially felt when coughing, lifting or bending over.
  • Weakness, pressure or a feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • Acid reflux
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing

In some cases, hernias have no symptoms. You may not know you have a hernia unless it shows up during a routine physical or a medical examination for an unrelated problem

What causes a hernia?

A hernia may occur whenever the muscles or tendons of the abdomen develop a weak spot or tear.

The abdominal muscles and their tendons normally hold the organs and surrounding tissues together. An organ such as the intestine can push the abdominal lining (peritoneum) through the weakened area and form a balloon-like sac.

This sac is usually seen as a bulge under the skin during straining or standing.

A hernia is sometimes present at birth or it may develop over time, due to strain on the abdominal muscles. A hernia can be aggravated by a chronic cough, constipation or heavy lifting, and will often come to attention as a result of such an event when the straining forces abdominal contents through the defect into the sac. Hernias generally enlarge over time.

Very occasionally, a hernia is a result of a traumatic rupture as a result of a violent injury. Such a rupture is associated with immediate pain, and often with bruising.

Hernias occur in males and females of all ages but are more common in men. Approximately one in every 20 men will develop a hernia at some time in their lives. There is an inherited susceptibility – someone with a parent who has a hernia is about eight times more likely to get a hernia.

How do you treat a hernia?

Because hernias arise through an area of inherent anatomical weakness, they do not “go away” without a surgeon rectifying that weakness. In other words, once you have a hernia, it is there to stay unless you have surgery.

Some patients are lucky and the hernia does not progressively enlarge very much over their remaining lifetime and gives them no symptoms. The majority, though, experience a progressive enlargement of the hernia.

Surgical treatment

Surgical hernia repair is one of the most commonly performed operations. If neglected, a hernia will usually increase in size, and occasionally it can lead to complications such as strangulation of the intestine which is very dangerous and requires emergency treatment.

There is a variety of open and laparoscopic options, with and without the use of surgical mesh, to repair a hernia. At Intus, we will discuss these options with you and find the solution best suited to you and your hernia.

Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes may help reduce hernia risk factors and can help control the signs and symptoms caused by a hernia.

  • Exercises strengthening muscles of affected area
  • Losing weight
  • Giving up cigarettes
  • Avoid heavy lifting