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Abdominal Hernia Symptoms

Abdominal hernia symptoms may vary from person to person.

Abdominal hernia symptoms can be painful. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Abdominal hernia symptoms can be painful.

Abdominal Hernia Symptoms

Abdominal hernia symptoms vary, but the condition is generally marked by a noticeable bulge in the abdomen. An abdominal hernia occurs when part of an organ or tissue protrudes or bulges through a weak region of the muscle wall surrounding the abdomen. This weak region may be the result of an injury, aging or a previous surgery. It may also have been present at birth.

A hernia can develop in both males and females of any age. According to Medem, the National Center for Health Statistics reports approximately 5 million Americans have abdominal hernias, which, in general, are not dangerous. However, if left untreated, a hernia can get bigger and lead to potentially life-threatening complications.

Types of Abdominal Hernias

An abdominal hernia may be caused by protruding intestine, fat or abdominal tissue. The protrusion or bulge is categorized as either reducible or nonreducible. Reducible protrusions can be pushed back into the abdominal cavity. Nonreducible protrusions cannot be pushed back into the abdomen and usually require surgery.

Abdominal hernias can develop in different regions of the abdomen or pelvis. These areas include the groin (inguinal hernia), the navel (umbilical hernias, which are formed in infancy, but may arise in adulthood), a previous surgical site (incisional hernia), upper-mid abdomen (epigastric hernia) and between the abdomen and the thigh (femoral hernia).

According to the Mayo Clinic, inguinal hernias are almost 10 times more common in males than females. Epigastric hernias are also more common in men, while femoral hernias may be more prevalent in women. Umbilical hernias can occur in adults, babies and children. According to the American Pediatric Surgical Association, most umbilical hernias in infants will close spontaneously but may persist in children over the ages of 4 and 5.

Causes of an Abdominal Hernia

Since most hernias develop because of a weakened area in the abdominal wall, any increase in unusual pressure on this wall may cause a hernia to develop. Factors that can increase a person's risk of developing an abdominal hernia include:

  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Obesity
  • Straining while attempting a bowel movement or urinating
  • Pregnancy
  • Chronic coughing or severe sneezing

Identifying Symptoms of an Abdominal Hernia

For some patients, a hernia does not present any symptoms. However, in addition to the bulge associated with an abdominal hernia, common symptoms include pain caused by lifting, straining, coughing or after standing or sitting for a long time. The patient may experience sharp pain in the area of the hernia during these activities, or it may be a dull pain that increases throughout the day. Males with an inguinal hernia may experience pain in the groin or swelling of the scrotum.

Severe pain and redness can indicate that because of the hernia, the intestine is strangulated, meaning it is a non-reducible hernia that is being tightly squeezed. If the hernia contains intestine, it can lose its blood supply. Therefore, the hernia requires immediate surgery.

Treating an Abdominal Hernia

While a person exhibiting any signs of a hernia should seek medical care, it is especially important if the hernia increases in size or causes pain. Treatment for an abdominal hernia depends on factors such as the patient's medical condition and the severity of the hernia. Some individuals with mild symptoms may use a supportive truss to temporarily prevent the hernia from bulging. For patients who may be considered high-operative risks, such as people with heart or lung disease, a doctor can carefully monitor the hernia for signs of complications. However, the only cure for an abdominal hernia is surgery.

Hernia repair surgery involves pushing the hernia back into its place in the abdomen and reinforcing the abdominal wall. There are two effective surgical techniques: traditional open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. During open hernia repair surgery, an incision is made in the abdominal wall, whereas laparoscopic surgery involves the use of a scope and camera inserted through very small holes. Compared to open hernia repair surgery, a laparoscopic procedure has certain advantages such as a shorter operative time, less pain and quicker recovery time.

Preventing the Recurrence or Worsening of an Abdominal Hernia

To avoid aggravating an existing hernia or to prevent the reoccurrence of an abdominal hernia, there are several measures a patient can take. These include maintaining a healthy weight and exercising. Quitting smoking is also recommended, since a smoker's cough may increase the chances of developing a hernia. To prevent constipation, it is suggested that people eat foods that are rich in fiber and drink an adequate amount of liquids. This can help to avoid any straining during bowel movements, which can cause a hernia. Avoiding lifting or pushing heavy objects may also help to prevent this condition.

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