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You’ve noticed a bulge in your groin or belly that you can gently push all the way back in. It may go away when you lie down and come out again if you cough, strain or lift something heavy.
This is called a hernia. It’s a problem in a part of your body you probably haven’t given a second thought to — the muscles that support your intestines and other organs.
Think of these muscles like a curtain wrapping your organs, holding them back. Sometimes, a weak spot in this curtain can tear, forming a hole that an organ can poke through.
The good news is that, by itself, a hernia is not always a medical emergency. You have time to fix it, but shouldn’t wait for too long. A hernia can develop into a life-threatening condition. The best bet with a hernia is to identify it quickly and get treated, usually with surgery.
It’s natural to be nervous about the idea of getting surgery. But at AdventHealth, we’ve treated enough patients to know how to put them at ease in both mind and spirit. We pair that expertise with some of the most advanced techniques to treat hernias.
To help you feel more informed and prepared, here are some answers to the seven most common questions about hernias.
1. Who Is Most Likely to Get a Hernia?
About one in four men will develop a groin hernia in his lifetime. The condition is about 10 times more common in men than women.
Hernias can also occur around your belly and chest, and they’re more often seen on the right side than the left.
They’re more common in older adults, as well as people with a family history of hernias.
2. Are Hernias Painful?
Now that you know a groin hernia happens when an intestine ruptures through the protective curtain that contains it, you’d probably expect it to hurt. That is often — but not always — the case.
You may be able to feel the hernia, especially when you’re standing, but it may not hurt. In either case, it’s a good reason to talk to your doctor.
Besides a bulge that becomes more obvious when you’re upright, other symptoms of hernias include:
- Pressure, weakness or a heavy feeling in your groin
- Discomfort that gets worse with physical activity or coughing
3. What Causes Hernias?
Though it’s often said that hernias are caused by heavy lifting, this notion is controversial among doctors. It’s not clear if the strain caused by lifting can actually cause a hernia or just make one worse.
In other words, unless you already have a hernia, the risk of getting one isn’t a reason to not lift weights.
Causes of hernias include:
- A weak spot in the muscle surrounding the organs in the belly and groin
- A cough that won’t go away, like from smoking
- Straining while going to the bathroom
- Demanding physical activity
4. What Should I Do If I Get a Hernia?
Unless you’re experiencing other symptoms — we’ll get to them in a moment — a hernia is not a medical emergency. It’s a good reason to talk to your doctor, but not a reason to go to the emergency room.
But there’s a critical exception to that rule: If you can’t push the hernia back in and you’re experiencing other symptoms, you may be in the midst of a medical emergency. Those symptoms include:
- Severe pain and tenderness
- Difficulty going to the bathroom
The hernia is causing one of two problems: It’s either blocking your bowels or cutting off blood flow to the tissues trapped outside. In either case, you’ll need to seek emergency care right away.
5. Will It Heal on Its Own?
Unfortunately, a hernia is one wound that time doesn’t heal. While surgery is the only treatment for hernias, it’s not a requirement in every case. Depending on your type of hernia and your overall health, your doctor may suggest waiting to see if it becomes a problem.
In the end, though, many or most people with a hernia will eventually seek surgery.
It’s a little like your car making a strange sound as you drive — it’s an annoyance now but it may become an emergency when you least suspect it.
It’s our job to describe the risks and benefits of hernia surgery and provide expert support, but the decision to go through with it is yours.
6. Can Women Get a Hernia?
One rare type of hernia, called a “femoral” hernia, named after the area on the thigh or hip where it occurs, is actually more common in women.
It has some of the same symptoms as other types, but it is more likely to cause serious side effects. Therefore, most women with a hernia should get surgery sooner rather than later.
7. How Is a Hernia Treated?
The most common surgical treatment of a hernia is surgery that involves placing a mesh pad over the tear, like patching a hole in a tire.
There are two different approaches, both of which are available at AdventHealth:
- An “open,” or traditional approach, which involves cutting the skin above the hernia and plugging the hole with a mesh pad
- A minimally invasive method in which the surgeon makes small cuts and inserts tiny instruments with cameras to repair the hernia
Your surgeon will discuss the pros and cons of each approach with you. In general, minimally invasive methods lead to less pain and faster recovery but they’re best performed by surgeons with plenty of experience.
At AdventHealth, we have expertise in treating hernias that extends beyond the operating room. Our compassionate culture keeps our patients’ emotional and spiritual health in mind, too. We ensure you feel fully supported no matter the health concern you’re facing.
For more information on our approach to whole-person care, visit our website.