Abdominal pain, a visible bulge, and pain when lifting heavy objects are all possible signs of a hernia, which can be effectively treated with surgery.
Hernias are common in both males and females. They are usually characterized by dull pain or discomfort in the groin or abdominal area. A hernia can enlarge over time and contribute to other health problems, which is why it’s important to see your doctor if you think you may have one.
Continue reading to learn how to know if you have a hernia and about how Lompoc Valley Medical Center can diagnose and treat your condition.
What Is a Hernia?
A hernia occurs when tissue protrudes through a gap in the abdomen wall. There are several hernias, though the most common hernias occur in the abdomen (ventral) and groin (inguinal).
A hernia usually doesn’t resolve on its own and can grow larger in time when left untreated. Complications that can occur with an untreated hernia include bowel obstruction and restricted blood flow to the intestine. Fortunately, hernias can be effectively repaired with surgery to prevent these complications.
What Causes a Hernia?
There are several potential causes of a hernia, the most common cause of a weakened abdominal wall. The abdomen is covered with layers of muscle and tissues that protect other organs. When the abdominal wall becomes weakened, this layer of muscle and tissues can often give way to result in a hernia.
Causes of a hernia include:
- Severe or chronic coughing
- Severe or chronic vomiting
- Chronic sneezing
- Lifting or pushing heavy objects
- Injury to the abdominal area or groin
- Being overweight or obese
- Straining during urination or bowel movements
- Lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) where breathing puts strain on the abdominal wall
- Enlarged prostate
- Being older, due to loss of elasticity of the abdominal wall
What Are Symptoms of a Hernia?
Symptoms of a hernia will vary depending on the location of the hernia and on whether you are male or female.
Abdominal (Ventral) Hernia
A hernia in the abdomen is generally characterized by aching, pressure, and/or mild or dull pain at the hernia site. You may also feel or see a bulge at the hernia site. Any pain or discomfort you feel will usually worsen when you perform activities that strain the abdomen, such as coughing, breathing heavily, lifting heavy objects, and sitting or standing for long periods.
Groin (Inguinal) Hernia
Hernias in the groin can affect both males and females, though they are more common among males. A hernia in the groin may have the following symptoms:
- A bulge that can be seen and/or felt, and that becomes more noticeable when sitting or standing
- Aching, pressure, and/or pain at the hernia site
- Possible burning sensation (in females)
- Pain that intensifies when performing activities that put pressure on the hernia, such as pushing, straining, and lifting heavy objects
- The feeling of weakness in the groin
- A tugging or dragging sensation in the scrotum near the testicles
- Pain and swelling around the testicles
How Is a Hernia Diagnosed?
A hernia can be diagnosed with a physical examination and one or more imaging tests. First, your doctor will review your medical history and perform a physical exam of your abdominal area or check for a bulge in the groin area. You may also be asked to stand and cough to make a bulging hernia more noticeable.
If an abdominal hernia is suspected, your doctor may inquire about your symptoms, such as whether you have been constipated lately, have pain in your abdomen, or have had a fever or rapid heart rate. Your doctor may also ask if you’ve been vomiting or experiencing a chronic cough.
Imaging tests that may be performed to diagnose a hernia include an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) study or computed tomography (CT) scan. If imaging tests reveal you have a hernia, your doctor may recommend scheduling another appointment to discuss your available treatment options.
How Is a Hernia Treated?
Hernias can be treated with surgery. The protruding tissue that is causing the hernia is pushed back into its appropriate area. Surgery can be performed as minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery or as open surgery.
Minimally Invasive Surgery
Minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery is associated with fewer risks, less downtime, and less visible scarring than open surgery. This type of surgery involves making one or more tiny incisions at the hernia site, into which a tiny camera called a laparoscope is inserted to help your doctor see the hernia more clearly and precisely. Your doctor will then repair the hernia using a series of tiny surgical tools. Downtime and recovery usually only last up to two weeks with minimally invasive surgery.
During open surgery, your doctor will make a large incision on your abdomen or groin, then push the protruding tissue back into its appropriate position. Your doctor will then reinforce the area with synthetic mesh and close the incision using staples, stitches, or surgical glue. Open surgery usually requires a downtime and recovery period of between four and six weeks. It may result in more visible scarring and pain than minimally invasive surgery.
When It’s Time To See Your Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you may have a hernia. Treatment can prevent your symptoms from worsening into more serious complications that affect your bowel function and other organs.
See your doctor immediately if you experience the following symptoms, which may indicate your hernia is a medical emergency:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abdominal bloating
- Rapid heart rate
- Pain that suddenly intensifies
- Inability to have a bowel movement
- The hernia bulge becomes red or purple in color
The above symptoms are signs of a strangulated hernia, which can cut off blood flow to the trapped tissue. A strangulated hernia must be treated right away to prevent life-threatening complications.
Where To Find Hernia Treatment
Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of medical providers who can diagnose and treat your hernia, along with many other medical conditions. Visit our provider page today to make an appointment.