Health Care

Hernias 101: What You Need to Know

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Chances are you probably know someone who’s had a hernia. They’re very common, and can happen in men, women and kids of all ages, even newborn babies. Luckily, most hernias cause only mild symptoms. But some can interfere with how you want to live your life.

Mild or severe, hernia symptoms should never be ignored. While some can be managed with lifestyle changes, others can become life-threatening if left untreated. If you or someone you love has a hernia, be sure to see a doctor. He or she can recommend treatment that can restore your whole health.

What’s a Hernia?

A hernia occurs when an area of weakened muscle tears, usually in the abdomen. This allows part of an internal organ or tissue to bulge through. Depending the hernia’s location and size, you may be able to see the bulge.

Types of hernias include:

  • Inguinal hernia –happens in the groin area and affects men more than women
  • Umbilical hernia – happens near the navel
  • Incisional hernia– happens after surgery when part of an organ pushes through the scar area
  • Hiatal hernia– happens in the upper part of the stomach and can push through the diaphragm
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia– rare birth defect that happens when a baby’s diaphragm isn’t completely formed, which allows the stomach and other organs to move into the chest cavity

Who Is Likely to Get a Hernia?

Most people with hernias get them as their muscles weaken with age. But others may develop hernias because they were born with weak abdominal muscles, are overweight, use tobacco or have poor nutrition — all of which increase your hernia risk.

If you lift heavy objects (especially without using proper lifting techniques) or strain your muscles while coughing, sneezing or having a bowel movement, you can eventually develop a hernia or make an existing one worse.

Symptoms of a Hernia

Symptoms of a hernia can vary depending on the type and location, but generally include:

  • Cough, heartburn or difficulty swallowing
  • Pressure in the area of the hernia
  • Visible bulging or a lump you can feel

You should see your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. If you have a hernia that becomes soft or can’t be pushed back in, or if you have sudden pain, constipation, nausea or vomiting, go to the emergency room. These symptoms could mean you have a strangulated hernia, which is a life-threatening condition.

Babies who are born with congenital diaphragmatic hernia may have trouble breathing. If your baby seems to be struggling to breathe, contact your doctor right away.

Hernia Diagnosis and Treatment

If you have symptoms of a hernia, see your doctor to get on the path to healing. He or she can offer an accurate diagnosis with a physical exam and, if needed, imaging tests such as an X-ray or CT scan to get a clear picture of your health.

If you have symptoms of a hiatal hernia, you may need an upper endoscopy. This minimally invasive procedure uses a small camera on a thin, flexible tube (a catheter) to examine your throat and stomach.

Your doctor may also suggest changes to your diet and activities if your hernia isn’t severe or dangerous. Medication can also sometimes relieve your symptoms.

If your symptoms don’t improve, your provider may discuss surgical options. Advances in technology offer procedures with smaller incisions and shorter recovery. Babies with congenital diaphragmatic hernia may also need surgery soon after birth. Your provider will work closely with you to discuss the treatment approach that’s right for you or your child.

How Can I Avoid Getting a Hernia?

Not all hernias can be avoided. And if you were born with weak abdominal muscles, your chances of getting a hernia only increase as you get older. Still, there are steps you can take to lower your hernia risks:

  • Avoid eating spicy foods
  • Eat smaller meals
  • Lift heavy objects carefully by using your legs, not your back
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Stop smoking or using tobacco

Get Hernia Care Where and When You Need It

Hernias can’t always be prevented, but they can be treated. And a doctor is the best person to give you advice on how to manage your hernia. If you have symptoms, the Digestive Care team at AdventHealth is here to help with quick and compassionate care at several convenient locations.

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