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Hernia Types, Symptoms, and Treatments

A hernia is a common problem in which an organ or other tissue pushes through muscle or connective tissue. It often leads to an out-of-place lump you can see or feel.

Most hernias aren't an urgent issue, but they can be painful.

When left untreated, a hernia can worsen over time. In rare cases, it can cause a blocked bowel or part of tissue to lose blood.

For these reasons, doctors often suggest surgery to fix a hernia.

To learn more or make an appointment, call the UPMC Division of General Surgery at 1-866-629-8077.

What Is a Hernia?

Our muscles work with a connective tissue called fascia to keep the organs and tissues of our abdomen in place.

A hernia happens when one part of the body pushes through fascia or muscle, such as:

  • Fatty tissue.
  • Part of the intestine.
  • An organ.

Hernias are common.

About 10% of people in the U.S. will get a hernia at some point.

What are the different types of hernias?

Almost all hernias occur in the abdomen, groin, or top of the thigh.

Types of hernias include:

  • Inguinal hernias. This is the most common type of hernia. It's nine times more common in men than women. An inguinal hernia is when the bowel or fatty tissue bulges past the fascia in the groin.
  • Umbilical hernias. This occurs when fatty tissue or part of the bowel pokes through a small opening at the belly button. It can happen in babies if the opening of the umbilical cord doesn't close properly. Adults can also get umbilical hernias.
  • Incisional hernias. This type of hernia occurs when tissue bulges through a surgical wound that hasn't fully healed. They happen in 10 to 15% of people who have had abdominal surgery.
  • Femoral hernias. This rare type of hernia happens when tissue in the abdomen pokes through the muscles in the groin. They're most common in women at the top of the inner thigh.

Other rare types of hernias are:

  • Perineal hernias. When organs or tissue push past the pelvic muscles.
  • Lumbar hernias. When organs or tissue push past the muscles of the flank or back.

What Causes Hernias?

Hernias can occur without injury or any provoking factors.

Common causes of hernia in adults include:

  • Strain during heavy lifting or bowel movements that put pressure on the intestine or other tissues.
  • Weakened muscles and fascia in the abdomen wall, often due to age, surgery, or another health condition.

What Are the Risk Factors and Complications of Hernias?

Hernia risk factors

The following can increase the risk of getting a hernia:

  • Age. Adults over 45 years are more likely to develop hernias.
  • Sex. Men are more likely than women to get hernias.
  • Lifestyle. A poor diet can cause hernias. They're also more common in people who are obese and those who smoke.
  • Underlying issues. Genetic disorders, prior surgery, autoimmune disorders, poorly controlled diabetes, and malnutrition can increase hernia risk.
  • Health conditions. Diseases that cause chronic coughing or constipation can strain the abdominal walls.

Hernia complications

Many hernias don't require treatment right away.

But they can cause serious complications such as:

  • A blockage in the bowel. This limits how food passes through the intestine.
  • Infection or inflammation.
  • Damage or loss of blood supply to part of the tissue or organ.

Why Choose UPMC for Hernia Care?

  • Our experts. A world-renowned health care network, UPMC offers experts in all types of hernia repairs. Doctors across Pennsylvania and neighboring states send people with both common as well as rare and complex hernias to UPMC.
  • Our volumes. UPMC does high volumes of hernia repairs using advanced and minimally invasive techniques, including robotics.

Hernia Symptoms and Diagnosis

What are the signs and symptoms of hernias?

Hernia signs and symptoms can differ based on the tissue involved.

For instance, a hiatal hernia can lead to heartburn, while an inguinal hernia can cause burning in the groin.

Some of the more common hernia symptoms include:

  • A bulge or lump (especially in the abdomen or groin) that you can push back in.
  • Pain at the site of the bulge, which gets worse over time.
  • Pain with lifting or straining during a bowel movement.
  • Swelling in the groin area.

Seek care right away if you have a hernia and notice any of the following signs of a complication:

  • A hernia bulge that you can no longer push back into the abdomen.
  • Nausea, vomiting, inability to pass stool, or bloating.
  • Fever.
  • Redness around the hernia site.
  • Sudden or severe pain that is different than your usual pain.

How do you diagnose a hernia?

Doctors diagnose a hernia using the following methods.

A physical exam

During the exam, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and medical history (such as prior surgeries and chronic conditions).
  • Look at and gently touch the skin covering the suspected hernia.
  • Maybe ask you to stand, cough, or strain certain muscles to see how this affects the hernia.

Imaging tests to diagnose a hernia

A doctor often diagnoses a hernia with a physical exam alone.

But if they're unclear on the diagnosis or need more information, they may order an imaging test.

An ultrasound or CT scan lets your doctor see your organs and tissues inside the abdomen.

What Do You Treat a Hernia?

Your doctor will work with you on a hernia treatment plant. They'll take the time to explain your treatment options in detail.

And they'll ask you about any concerns and what option or options you prefer.

If your hernia causes symptoms or poses a risk, the most common treatment is surgery.

Watchful waiting

If your hernia isn't causing symptoms, doctors may suggest watching it to make sure it doesn't get worse.

A hernia can weaken the wall of the abdomen and other tissues as it gets bigger over time. So often, doctors suggest surgery when the hernia is small and not painful.

Doctors may also watch a hernia if they want you to make changes to improve your health before surgery. Factors such as losing weight loss and stopping smoking can help with the surgery's success.

Open hernia surgery

During open surgery, the surgeon makes a single cut and pushes the hernia back into place. Then, they close the tissue or muscle with stitches.

They may also use surgical mesh to repair a hernia. This mesh can be synthetic (medical-grade plastic) or biologic (derived from animal or donated human tissue).

Mesh reduces the risk of hernias coming back in most people.

Minimally invasive hernia repair

In minimally invasive surgery, the surgeon makes smaller cuts and pilots tools through a tube. The tube has a light and a video camera so they can see what they're doing.

The surgeon pushes in the herniated tissue and uses surgical mesh to strengthen the muscle or fascia.

Contact the UPMC Division of General Surgery

To learn more about hernia treatment or make an appointment with one of our experts, call 1-866-629-8077.