It feels like a bruise. It’s a knot in my muscle. I can push on my lump and it disappears. Hernia symptoms vary by patient but almost always include a visible lump. The spot can be painless or tender and swollen. Discerning whether your symptoms are a hernia can be difficult since they don’t always cause problems. Get the facts on hernias, treatment options and common fears so you can take care of the symptoms before they become a problem.

What’s a hernia?

A hernia forms when the contents of a body cavity bulge out of their normal area. The most common types of hernia are:

  • Inguinal - inner groin
  • Incisional - at the point of a previous surgery incision
  • Femoral - outer groin
  • Umbilical - at or in your belly button
  • Hiatal - upper stomach

The bump you notice can be an organ, intestine or fatty tissue protruding through the abdominal wall. Coughing or increasing the pressure on the area in other ways may cause your lump to bulge then recede. Sometimes hernias can develop inside too.

Hernias by themselves may produce no symptoms or only slight pain under certain conditions, such as laying down or running. The trouble is that untreated, hernias carry the risk of cutting off the blood supply to the area, causing a medical emergency.

How did I get this hernia?

Any condition that increases the pressure in your abdominal cavity may cause a hernia to form or worsen. This includes heavy lifting, coughing or sneezing, and even straining during a bowel movement. Obesity, poor nutrition, and smoking can all increase the likelihood of developing a hernia, as can a family history of hernias. Often the muscle weakness that allows a hernia to develop is present at birth but only becomes a problem later in life. Hernias can be the result of routine life events, like catching a cold with a cough, carrying heavy groceries, or lifting a golf bag.

What should I do now?

While some people live with the symptoms of a hernia for years, all lumps or abdominal pain should be checked by a physician, particularly if you have nausea as well.

Treatment and surgical options

After diagnosis, treatment of your hernia will require surgery. Years ago, the only option was open surgery (through a large incision) which required a long hospital stay and significant down time. Now laparoscopy – minimally invasive surgery through a few small incisions – and robotic surgery have changed the dynamics. Depending on your hernia location and overall health, robotic surgery can reduce blood loss, shorten hospital stays, lower pain and recovery time and reduce scarring. Sometimes the surgery can even be done through just one incision with little down time!

I’m afraid of a hernia repair

A general surgeon is the best source for information about your treatment or surgery options. Patients have different conditions, risk factors, and surgical needs so the hernia repair your neighbor, coworker or aunt had may not be anything like yours. While the thought of surgery brings a level of seriousness to any hernia diagnosis, the potential risks of NOT having a hernia repaired are far greater and scarier. Strangulated hernias can cause permanent damage and can even be life-threatening.

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