The National Center for Health Statistics estimates that approximately 5 million Americans are living with hernias. June is Hernia Awareness month. Therefore, we want to promote awareness of what hernias are and what to do if you suspect that you have one.

What is a Hernia?

To begin with, what is a hernia? The term refers to a protrusion of an organ or tissue through an abnormal opening in the body. In other words, it’s a breach of the muscle wall or connective tissue. Such a breach can occur in the groin, near the bellybutton or navel, in the upper abdomen and near the diaphragm.

Types of Hernias and Symptoms

There are five types of hernias — abdominal, hiatal, femoral, inguinal, umbilical, and incisional hernias.

Abdominal hernias occur when the intestines or tissue push through a weakened spot in the abdominal wall. This type is common near surgical incisions and, therefore, these are sometimes known as incisional hernias.

Hiatal hernias are a result of the stomach or esophagus bulging upward into the diaphragm. This can result in frequent cases of heartburn or the development of Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD).

As for femoral hernias, they appear just below the groin when the intestinal sac or fatty tissue drops into the femoral canal. This is a space located at the top of the inner thigh where the femoral artery carries blood from the leg.

An inguinal hernia can occur on one or both sides of the groin and is most common in men. This type of hernia is a result of a breach in the lower abdomen.

Most common in women after pregnancy, umbilical hernias occur near the bellybutton or navel. This area is an especially good target due to the weakness caused by the blood vessels of the umbilical cord.

While there are several types of hernias, it is often pre-peritoneal fat or tissue that pushes through the abdominal wall. With what result?

Possible Symptoms

Depending on where it is located and the amount of protrusion, a hernia may cause a lump that can be seen and felt. Sometimes, gentle pressure can push the hernia back in, although a temporary fix. You may notice, too, that sometimes the bulge has disappeared in the morning.

Additionally, a person may experience symptoms such as swelling, tenderness, sharp pains or pulling sensations in the affected area. If and when a hernia grows, discomfort may increase.

However, it’s interesting to note that  most hernias do not cause painful symptoms. In fact, many can often live with hernias for years without a problem. That raises the question, “When should I seek the advice of a medical professional?”

Seek a Medical Evaluation If…

  1. A hernia becomes unusually or suddenly very painful
  2. You begin to feel sick, nauseous or have a fever
  3. Your hernia can’t be pushed back in

In such cases, it would be wise to get checked out by your doctor. He or she can determine what treatment is appropriate, if any is needed at all. Sometimes complications can arise, which may require surgery to fix.

For example, strangulation of a hernia is considered a medical emergency. When the window through which tissue or an organ has squeezed is tightly clamped shut, it can cut off blood supply to the area. This can cause tissue death with the possibility of other problems. While most hernias do not cause such serious problems, this is a possibility. Therefore, it’s always wise to know what your situation is beforehand and get an updated evaluation if anything should change.

Take Action!

Do you suspect that you have a hernia? Why not visit your doctor now to get the ok or to prevent possible problems in the future? If you’ve already confirmed that you have a hernia, take note of any new or changing symptoms or physical characteristics. The more attune you are to these changes, the better. If you are suffering now, you don’t have to suffer endlessly. Get help!