Posted on June 02, 2015
Are You Ignoring the Symptoms of a Hernia?
Each year, hernias affect millions in this country. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, approximately five million Americans have a hernia, but only 750,000 Americans seek treatment each year. National Hernia Awareness Month is observed each June to raise public awareness about hernias and effective treatment. Most people don’t understand what a hernia is or what causes one, much less the treatment options available.
What is a Hernia?
A hernia occurs when parts of an organ (usually the intestines) protrudes through a weak point or tear in the thin muscular wall that holds the abdominal organs in place. People at risk of developing a hernia are typically those performing chronic lifting or activities that require straining, which increases intra-abdominal pressure. However, the various types of hernias can occur in both males and females of any age.
Often there is no obvious cause as to why someone develops a hernia, but awareness of the common symptoms can help in diagnosing their occurrence. Identifying hernias in a timely manner is crucial. Left unchecked, hernias can lead to serious medical issues.
Signs and Symptoms
Most people with hernias have a common set of signs and symptoms. The questions below can help you determine if you have a hernia.
Is there a bulge under the skin on your abdomen or in your groin area?
A bulge is the most typical sign of a hernia.
If you have a bulge under your skin, does it ever disappear?
If the bulge flattens out when you lay down or press on it, the hernia probably needs prompt, but not emergency, medical attention. If the bulge does not flatten out when you lay down or press on it, it may be trapped or strangulated. The hernia requires immediate medical attention.
Do you have discomfort or pain when you lift, cough, sneeze, strain, or perform physical activities?
Hernias can cause discomfort or pain during your daily activities—especially when you exert yourself. They can also cause discomfort or pain during urination or bowel movements and a feeling of weakness or pressure in the groin area. Hernia pain may be sharp and sudden, dull and achy, or a combination of both.
Does your discomfort or pain get worse toward the end of the day?
Hernia pain typically becomes more intense as the day goes on. The pain can also worsen after standing for long periods of time.
Types of Hernias
Groin or Inguinal Hernias: These occur on one or both sides of the groin or scrotum. An inguinal hernia may be unilateral, occurring on one side of the groin, or bilateral, occurring on both sides of the groin. A majority of hernias are found in this area and are most common in men. Approximately 70% of inguinal hernias are indirect, meaning they occur in a natural weak spot of the groin around the spermatic cord. Approximately 30% of inguinal hernias are direct, caused by weak tissue being aggravated by straining or lifting over time.
Hiatal or Paraesophageal Hernias: These occur when the stomach or esophagus slide up through the diaphragm into the chest. Common symptoms are heartburn or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Paraesophageal hernias occur when part of the stomach is squeezed up into the chest beside the esophagus. The stomach can be strangulated, restricting blood supply to the related tissues. Hiatal hernias may be recurrent, which means that a previously repaired hernia has returned.
Femoral Hernias: These are most common in women and occur when there is a weakness near the femoral artery in the groin of the upper thigh.
Umbilical Hernias: These occur around the umbilicas or navel and are common in women during or after pregnancy.
Ventral or Abdominal Hernias (incisional hernias): These occur when the intestine pushes through a weakened area in the abdominal wall and can result from previous surgical incisions.
Treatment of a Hernia
Patients should seek medical help if a hernia is suspected and should seek further evaluation by a medical professional—especially when pain or discomfort persists. The treatment of a hernia is almost always surgery, although a temporary measure may include simply pushing the hernia content back into the abdomen then applying pressure to prevent it from reoccurring. During surgical hernia repair, the herniated segment can usually be placed back into the abdominal cavity through an incision and the muscle then stitched closed to complete the repair.
Some patients perceive surgery to be an inconvenience to their daily lifestyle and to those around them. Others may think the surgery requires an extended hospital stay followed by a long and painful period of recovery. Fortunately, a variety of safe, simple, and quick surgical procedures can eliminate these worries and have patients back to their daily activities in very little time. Hernia repairs are now common and routine surgical procedures—tools and technologies have evolved to drastically reduce a patient’s “down time.”
Many hernia repairs are typically performed:
- In an outpatient setting at a hospital or ambulatory surgery center;
- Using local or epidural anesthesia;
- Through one small incision;
- Within 45 minutes;
- Without the need of pain medication;
- With patients going home a few hours after surgery; and
- With patients returning to normal activities within a few days.
A hernia can be uncomfortable, unsightly, painful, and even cause life threatening complications. Don’t let a hernia restrict you and keep you from the activities you enjoy. The knowledgeable and experienced team of physicians at CCHC Southern Gastroenterology Associates, New Bern, is ready to answer any questions you may have. Call (252) 634-9000 to make an appointment.