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Hernia FAQ

What Is a Hernia?

If a person feels a lump in the abdomen, it could be a hernia. The lump may be soft, small, and painless, or it may feel a little painful and swollen. The lump might even be able to be pushed back in, only to pop out again later.

When the hernia occurs in the groin, it is called an inguinal hernia. Hernias occur when part of an abdominal organ, such as the intestine, bowel, or bladder, or fatty tissue in the abdomen pushes through a weak spot or tear in the abdominal muscles. The contents of the lump or bulge may be intestine or fatty tissue. Sometimes this lump in the abdominal wall is referred to as an outpouching. Hernias usually occur in areas where the abdominal wall is weakened or thinner, either because the location is already weaker or is made weaker due to a previous intervention such as a surgical procedure. If the pressure inside the abdomen increases, as with a cough or lifting a heavy object, the hernia can appear.

Many people have abdominal hernias. As much as 10% of the population develops some type of hernia during life. More than a half million hernia operations are performed in the United States each year.

Many people do not seek treatment. Hernias might never worsen, but if a hernia is not taken care of, it can become larger and cause a medical emergency as tissue becomes trapped in the outpouching, loses its blood supply, and dies. (This is called a strangulated hernia.)

Some people have no discomfort at all. However, some hernias can become painful, when the intra-abdominal pressure is increased (which happens when you cough or lift a heavy object). Sometimes coughing or lifting can cause the hernia in the first place.

Hernia repair is one of the most common types of surgery in the United States. At one time, a hernia operation was a major procedure. Now, inguinal (groin) hernias are often repaired using laparoscopy. This is a technique in which instruments are inserted into the abdomen through several small incisions or cuts. Recovery is often quick without complications.

Last Reviewed 11/21/2017

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Hernia FAQ - Symptoms and Signs

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Hernia FAQ - Complications

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Hernia FAQ - Treatment

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Hernia FAQ - Types

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Hernia Causes

Sometimes hernias happen "just because," but many times they are a complication of what we do and who we are. Risk factors for developing a hernia include:

  • family history,
  • premature birth,
  • chronic cough,
  • constipation,
  • lifting heavy weights,
  • being overweight,
  • smoking, and
  • pregnancy.

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Hernias »

As defined in 1804 by Astley Cooper, ahernia as a protrusion of any viscus from its proper cavity.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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