A hernia is one of the most common issues that people suffer from yet, only a handful of people truly understand the meaning of it, its symptoms or whether or not to get hernia treatment.
You may have had a friend or relative who just underwent surgery because they found a bulge in their stomach one morning. You might have had a neighbor rushed into the hospital emergency because something was protruding out in his belly as he was lifting weights. All these examples are actually cases of hernia and while it is not such a big deal in most cases, hernias can complicate and may lead to life-threatening situations. So it's good to learn about this condition and all the related information.
This article will talk about hernias in detail; focusing on hernia symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options.
What Is A Hernia?
Let’s begin with the most searched for query related to this condition: "hernia meaning"
To put it simply, a hernia is a condition in which a hole forms in the fascia of your body. The abdominal muscles inside a human body are arranged in the form of a sheet i.e. they are stacked in layers. In general, there are three layers of abdominal muscles that form your abdomen and fascia is a structure that lines these muscles.
As the pressure inside your abdominal cavity is increased, a sac-like structure is formed. This structure then pushes through the weakest point of your belly to give rise to a hernia or a bulge.
Such a hernia is most noticeable around the belly button or umbilical area as it is naturally a weak point on your belly. It can also be seen on either side of your groin.
Hernia Types – Locating A Hernia
In most people, hernias typically occur in the abdominal area. However, you can also expect to find them in other areas like the belly button, groin, or upper thigh.
Based on the exact location, the following hernia types have been described by specialists:
An inguinal hernia occurs when a fat pocket or your intestines bulges through a weak spot through the inguinal canal. In women, this canal is responsible for supporting the uterus while in men, it holds testicles in place.
When your stomach bulges through the diaphragm to enter the chest cavity, you are said to have a hiatal hernia.
This type of hernia is more common in females and occurs when a part of the intestines or fatty tissue bulges into the outer groin area.
Incisional hernia commonly occurs in people who have undergone surgery. The place of incision is considered as a weak area and the intestines are very likely to push through the muscles around it.
This type of hernia can be found at the midline in the upper abdominal region.
Symptoms Of Hernia
Various hernia symptoms may help an expert in establishing a correct diagnosis. These symptoms of a hernia are mentioned below:
- A bulge in the groin area
- Pain in the groin occurs when you perform a pressure-building activity such as exercising, straining, lifting, coughing, or passing a bowel movement. The pain tends to subside when you are at rest
- A feeling of burning, heaviness, aching, itching, swelling, or any other discomfort in the scrotum or groin
- Pain in chest
- Any unusual problem with swallowing, heartburn, belching, burping, or pain in the throat
- Facing difficulty in urination
- Unexplained nausea or vomiting
The symptoms may vary in different users.
What Causes Hernia?
So what causes a hernia, anyways?
The presence of a hernia means that there is a weakened spot in your abdominal muscles. It can either be congenital i.e. present since birth or acquired due to major surgery or a lack of activity. Having a chronic problem or diarrhea also contributes to the weakening of the abdomen. Similarly, constipation can also make you prone to developing a hernia.
Other activities that build pressure in your body, such as sneezing fits or cough spasms can lead to inguinal hernia. Lifting heavy weights can also be considered among the most important hernia risk factors.
Other hernia risk factors include:
- Poor nutrition
- Abusing alcohol or tobacco
- Fluid in abdomen
- Cystic fibrosis
- Any underlying condition that causes forceful urination, such as chronic kidney disease or prostate enlargement
- A sedentary lifestyle
- Muscle atrophy due to old age
Hernia Prevention - What Can You Do About It?
Irrespective of the cause of your hernia, whether it is congenital or due to surgery, there is no way to prevent its occurrence. However, certain lifestyle choices may help reduce the strain you put on your body.
These hernia prevention tips are mentioned below:
- Stop smoking
- Get help from a healthcare professional if you are suffering from a persistent cough
- Perform exercise that strengthens your core muscles, such as planks
- Avoid lifting weights that are way beyond your comfort level
- While lifting heavy objects, do it properly by bending at the knees. Avoid putting pressure on your back or waist
- Eat foods rich in fiber to prevent constipation
- Avoid straining as you urinate or pass a bowel movement
Is Hernia Dangerous?
Most people who continue to live with a hernia render it a harmless issue. However, you shouldn't take it lightly. In fact, the quicker you get a hernia treated, the better. This is because the fascia hole or the defect site tends to keep growing with time and if you do not do anything about it, the hole may get large enough for whole organs to bulge out.
Even if there is no hernia pain, it is important to seek appropriate treatment. An untreated hernia can also trap a piece of bowel in it and may stop it from going back inside. In such a case, the bowel often loses its blood supply and becomes ‘strangulated.’ A strangulated hernia is not only extremely painful but may also cause other complications.
If you are living with a hernia at the moment and wish to keep it under control until surgery, it is important to be mindful of certain activities that may potentially enlarge it. For example, avoid being in an environment that triggers coughing. Moreover, stay away from activities that build pressure in your abdomen. This includes lifting heavy objects, pulling, pushing, and straining to pass a bowel movement.
Performing crunches and sit-ups can also increase intra-abdominal pressure. However, you also need to prevent walking up the stairs speedily or jumping as they also cause the intra-abdominal pressure to surge. Activities like laughing or sneezing can also contribute to hernia enlargement.
In patients belonging to older age groups, experts normally choose to delay any surgical procedure. This particularly includes older people with heart problems or issues like dementia as they may not recover well from the anesthetic effects. In such people, the preferred course of action is watchful waiting to ensure that the hernia doesn’t complicate.
In otherwise healthy patients, hernia treatment normally includes surgery.
Different types of surgeries can be performed as a part of hernia repair. These are mentioned below
Open Hernia Repair Surgery
During this type of surgery, a small incision is given over the groin area and the surgeon cuts through the muscle layers to reach the damaged fascia. The defective area is then repaired with the help of stitches or a piece of mesh.
A lot of people are unable to decide if getting a hernia mesh repair is a safe option. Without using a mesh, the alternative hernia treatment procedure includes the use of sutures to repair the defective tissue. This method; however, creates tension on the surface of the fascia and may even cause more pain. Moreover, a hernia repair with sutures or the Canadian method is also likely to increase the risk of recurrences in the future.
Because of the excessive hernia pain and a high risk of recurrences linked with the Canadian method, surgeons prefer using mesh to eliminate the issue once and for all.
Laparoscopic Hernia Surgery
To minimize pain and speed up the recovery process, experts often suggest laparoscopic hernia repair wherever it is possible. During this process, the surgeon gives a small cut in the lower belly region and uses a thin tube with a camera on its end to visualize the weak spot and place mesh on it.
A positive point of this procedure is that it allows the surgeon to get a clearer view of the nerves and place the mesh as far away from them as possible. With this procedure, patients can expect to get back to their usual routines in as little as four days.
Robotic Hernia Repair
Hernia treatment has evolved over the years- from the Canadian method to mesh repair, and today, it includes the use of robots. As a part of robotic hernia repair, the surgeon is given a device with a camera to control the robotic arms. These robotic arms hold surgical tools and bend more flexibly than human arms to repair the hernia. The result is a faster procedure with better precision.
Hernias (or the out-pouching of intestines) are a rather common issue, and despite seeming harmless, they can create a lot of complications if left untreated for a long time. Mesh repair or the Canadian method is the preferred option to manage a typical case of hernia before it strangulates or causes pain. Alternatively, experts suggest strengthening your core abdominal muscles with suitable exercises and avoiding pressure buildup due to unnecessary straining or weight lifting.