Fatty tissues and organs are kept in place by muscle tissues. When that muscle tissue is too weak, the slightest amount of pressure can cause tissues and organs to pierce through the muscles and bulge under the skin. That, in simple terms, is what’s called a hernia. While common among adults, not many people know much about hernias. If you suspect that you or a loved one is suffering from a hernia, here is everything you need to know in order to take care of the matter as best as you can.

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Types of Hernias

Hernias can occur in more than one area of the body, though it’s more common in some areas than most. Needless to say, the probability of a certain type of hernia occurring differs from one case to the other.

  • Inguinal Hernia

More common among men than women, an inguinal hernia happens when fatty tissue or intestines protrude through the abdominal wall and the inguinal canal. It appears in the form of a bulge at the top of the groin, close to the inner thigh. It’s usually diagnosed based on visible symptoms, but in some cases, a scan might be needed to confirm the diagnosis. The most common complication, in this case, is the obstruction of blood, preventing it from reaching an area in the intestine.

  • Femoral Hernia

The main difference between an inguinal hernia and a femoral hernia is the place of occurrence. Right below the inguinal canal lies the femoral canal which houses the femoral artery and vein. When fatty tissue or intestines break through the wall of the femoral canal, the bulge appears along the inner thigh. The risk of blood flow obstruction is also a main concern here as with inguinal hernias. Nevertheless, women are more likely than men to suffer from this type.

  • Incisional Hernia

When incisions are made in the wall of the abdomen during surgery, it’s essential to follow postoperative instructions to help the incision heal properly, since hernias are a result of organs protruding through weak muscle tissue. Neglecting proper post-procedural recovery through exerting strenuous physical effort too soon, for example, can push tissue through the unhealed incision in the abdominal wall, causing a hernia. As for the location of the hernia, it depends on where the incision was made.

  • Umbilical Hernia

They are a result of the intestines bulging through the abdominal wall near the navel, also known as, the umbilicus. After childbirth, when the umbilical cord passes through an opening in the abdominal wall, the muscles join to close the gap. If the muscles don’t join properly, or at all, it leaves a possibility for an umbilical hernia to occur. An umbilical hernia can affect adults, but it’s highly common with newborns and females, especially. Fortunately, with children, the protrusion repairs itself in the first two to three years, and in a few cases, five years. With adults, however, surgery is needed to repair the protrusion.

While these are the most common, there are other types of hernias such as epigastric, hiatic, Spigelian, and diaphragmatic. Altogether, these comprise 1-2% of all abdominal hernia cases, according to a short report published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Symptoms 

The main tell when it comes to hernia is a bulge in your groin, inner thigh, or abdomen. Add to that, if the lump is under a scar from previous surgery, an incisional hernia might be the case. The lumps are soft, and when pressed in, they re-emerge upon physical activity. In fact, in the case of a hernia, any form of physical exercise, laughing, bending, crying, or straining is painful. When lying down, a hernia lump will disappear as the pressure from the intestines on the abdominal wall lessens. In most cases, the lump is painless, but if you start to feel pain, it’s highly recommended that you seek immediate medical attention to avoid complications.

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Depending on its location, an inguinal hernia might result in swelling in the scrotum. It can also result in nausea, vomiting, and severe pain, combined with the inability to push back the lump into the abdomen. In this case, it is also important to see a doctor as soon as you can. Keep in mind that the symptoms vary from one patient to the other. For some, an abdominal bulge is all there is, but for others, they might experience one or a few out of a range of symptoms which includes:

  • Constipation.
  • Dull pain or discomfort.
  • A periodic increase in the size of the lump.
  • Pain when lifting or straining.

For those suffering from hiatal hernia (occurs when the stomach bulges into the chest cavity through the diaphragm, they won’t see an external lump. Instead, they should be looking for symptoms like heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.

Treatment

After diagnosis, through a physical exam or a CT scan, your doctor will take one of two courses of action. The first is to prescribe you medications that help with the symptoms while they monitor the state of your hernia to determine whether surgery is necessary or not, but this only happens when the hernia is asymptomatic or when the symptoms are minimal. The second course of action is to refer you to a surgeon who will then provide you with the surgical options that best suit your case.

  • Open surgery

Hernia repair surgery is a common procedure in the medical field. In open surgery, the surgeon creates an incision around the bulging area so that they can push the protruding intestine back into the abdomen and repair the abdominal wall. Once the bulging intestine is pushed back, the surgeon uses surgical mesh, stitches, or a combination of both, to repair the damage and fortify the abdominal wall. While using mesh is perfectly safe, it’s always a good idea to know your rights because, according to the hernia mesh lawsuit 2021 updates, complications might arise if the mesh is of poor quality. In this case, your surgeon should help you spot any complications before any significant damage is done. Nevertheless, taking legal action is essential because you shouldn’t be paying, neither physically nor financially, for someone else’s mistake.

  • Laparoscopic surgery

If you aren’t comfortable with open surgery, laparoscopic surgery is the option for you. The procedure itself is the same as with open surgery, but the difference lies in the method of operation. Laparoscopic surgery uses a laparoscope, a thin fiber-optic instrument fitted with a camera, to repair the hernia with minimal invasion. Through a small incision, the miniature instrument is inserted to show your body from the inside. The surgeon then inflates the stomach using carbon dioxide in order to have the space to operate. After pushing in the hernia and adding the mesh, the surgeon stitches the small incisions. Other than it being minimally invasive, the procedure comes with a shorter recovery period and less pain.

  • Robotic Hernia Repair

The method of operation here is similar to that of laparoscopic surgery, but instead of directly operating on the body, the surgeon carries out the procedure by controlling a robot that, in turn, operates on the body. Having a robot controlling the instruments offers greater precision and a steadier hand, as well as, a wider range of motion which poses fewer limitations for the surgeon. The procedure comes with less pain and a short recovery period, but don’t forget that it’s up to the surgeon and their experience with operating the robot.

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Causes

Hernias don’t occur at random, but for a set of causes that are supported by risk factors that can make you more susceptible to getting a hernia. As mentioned in the introduction, a hernia comes about when an organ penetrates through a weak spot in the muscle tissue. In other words, the cause for hernia can be anything that contributes to weakening the muscle tissue or to an increase in the pressure exerted by the organs over the surrounding tissue.

  • Aging

With age, our muscles tend to lose their tone, mass, and generally deteriorate. This muscle loss brings with it a higher chance of getting a hernia.

  • Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the abdominal muscles grow weaker and thinner as they are stretched to accommodate the growing fetus. If you were already prone to an umbilical hernia at birth, such stretching can expand the existing gaps or create new ones in your abdomen wall. Be sure to consult your doctor when you notice anything.

  • Straining During Bowel Movements

If you have chronic constipation or often strain too hard during bowel movements, you might be at risk of a hernia. The goal of straining is to apply pressure on your abdomen to push the stool through the anus. While pushing every once in a while won’t hurt, the constant pressure increases the chances of your intestines bulging through a weak spot.

  • Lifting Heavy Weights

Whether you constantly overtrain, lift weights, or happen to help out a friend on the occasional move to a new place, you might be risking serious damage. The excessive pressure and tension on your organs, especially when your abdominal muscles are either exhausted or not strong enough can push them through.

  • Smoking

While not a direct cause, smoking is a risk factor that can worsen an existing hernia, or even trigger a new one. By blocking arteries and inhibiting the blood flow, smoking makes it harder for the body to heal itself, especially after surgeries, which increases the risk of incisional hernias. It also is a direct cause of chronic coughing which adds pressure on organs and fatty tissue.

  • Obesity

Both a risk factor and a cause, the extra weight adds pressure on one’s organs and muscles which weakens the muscles and pushes the organs out. It can be critically damaging in the case of having excessively weak abdominal muscles, or a weakened abdominal wall due to a past surgery in the region.

Side Effects

When a hernia is left untreated, it can affect the surrounding areas and potentially endanger organs. How fast you’ll start seeing side effects depends on the size and state of the hernia and your lifestyle. If you keep on adding pressure on your abdomen’s contents, they will bulge through the tear in your abdominal wall and the state of the hernia will worsen.

  • Incarceration

With the added pressure on the intestines, there’s a chance a portion might get stuck in the abdominal wall. Meaning, neither stool nor gas will be able to pass through your intestines. This is why constipation is considered a dangerous symptom, it’s an indicator that a portion of your intestines is trapped.

  • Strangulation

When the trapped tissue swells and it becomes even more tightly packed into the hernia sac, the blood is cut off from the rest of the intestines. With the blood supply cut off, any organs that lie below the trapped tissue will die of gangrene.

Prevention

If you don’t have a hernia or if you’ve had one before and wish never to go through the ordeal again, there are a few measures you can take to keep your body as protected as can be.

  • Strengthen your Core

By strengthening your core muscles and your abdominal wall, it will take a lot more pressure than straining on a toilet or lifting a really heavy weight for your organs to penetrate through your abdominal wall. You don’t have to get ripped, but even a simple routine will do you wonders. It is important, nonetheless, to match the intensity of your workout to the pressure you exert on your organs. A weightlifter, for example, needs a stronger core than the occasional heavy lifter.

  • Avoid Straining When Defecating 

If you place your hand on your abdomen and strain ever so slightly, you’ll notice how such pressure on your intestine can push a part of it through your abdominal wall. To avoid straining, a good technique is placing a stool underneath your feet, elevating your knees above your waist.

  • Lift Properly

It’s also important to use a proper lifting technique so as not to overload your abdomen. Lifting with your thighs and a straight back takes the pressure off of your abdomen. As for weight lifters, make sure you maintain a proper posture and, if you feel any pain during the lift, stop immediately.

Hernias can be tricky to diagnose, especially when they are painless. After all, we all have a tendency to procrastinate when it comes to non-pressing physical problems, and the reasons behind that are endless – not to mention, no one likes surgery. But, as we’ve mentioned before, the sooner you get your hernia treated, the better. Not only will you be sparing yourself and your precious organs the complications of an untreated hernia, but you’ll also be guaranteeing yourself a successful operation with better results and faster recovery. That said, don’t forget to follow your medical professional’s instructions when it comes to postoperative care. 

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