Hernia - Can It Be Life-Threatening?

A hernia is a bulge which occurs when an organ pushes through an opening in the muscle or tissue that holds it in place. Hernias most commonly occur in the abdomen, but can also happen in the upper thigh, belly button, and groin areas. 

A hernia can be pain-free, but at times, it can be a huge discomfort and cause severe pain. In extreme cases, a hernia may require surgery to treat the bulge. 

Here are the different types of Hernia:

Inguinal Hernia: Inguinal hernia isn’t always dangerous but if not treated properly, it can lead to life-threatening complications. It usually occurs when the intestines extend through a weak spot in the abdominal muscles. This results in a bulge which can be quite painful, especially while coughing or lifting an object. This type of hernia is more commonly found in men. 

An Inguinal hernia can cause pressure on the surrounding tissues as they start to enlarge if the surgical process is not performed. It can cut off the blood flow and also lead to severe pain and vomiting if the hernia is trapped in the abdominal wall. 

Femoral Hernia: A femoral hernia develops in the upper part of the thigh where abdominal contents pass through the femoral canal. This is not a common type of hernia and often requires emergency surgery. They are usually caused as a result of obesity, heavy lifting, coughing, ascites, and peritoneal dialysis.  This is more common in women than men due to the wider shape of the female pelvis. 

A femoral hernia occurs when the fat tissue pokes into the groin through a weak spot in the muscle at the top of the thigh. There’s more risk in this type of hernia and immediate surgical treatment is recommended to push back the bulge into place. 

Umbilical Hernia: An Umbilical hernia occurs at the umbilicus (belly button) when a part of the intestine come through the muscles of the abdomen wall. It is more likely to be present in case of low birth weight and premature infants. 

It causes a bulge or swelling in the belly button area which can cause severe pain and redness near the belly button area. For children, it is usually painless but in adulthood, it can cause severe pain and abdominal discomfort. An umbilical hernia is the only kind which fixes on its own and closes by the age of 3-4, but if it doesn’t, then urgent surgical treatment might be required. 

Incisional Hernia: Incisional Hernia can occur for a number of reasons: individuals who - engage in excessive physical activity after hernia surgery, gain weight, become pregnant, or put too much pressure on abdominal in some other way before the incision is fully healed. 

If left untreated, the hernia tends to get larger over time and can cause serious pain and discomfort in the abdomen. The complications of leaving it untreated can be potentially life-threatening and can reduce the quality of life. 

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Epigastric Hernia: Epigastric hernia is a bulge that occurs in the Epigastrium, which is the area between the navel and the breastbone. They may vary in size and there can be more than one epigastric hernia at a time. Some of the causes of Epigastric hernia include - Obesity, pregnancy, coughing, heavy lifting, and heavy physical labor. 

This hernia doesn’t leave any symptoms, which is why most people spend their whole life unaware about having a hernia. The regular symptoms of this hernia include pain, tenderness, and an abdominal bump. It can be treated with a surgery which can give relief from the pain. 

Hiatal Hernia: A hiatal hernia occurs when the upper part of the stomach bulges through the muscle separating the abdomen and the diaphragm. The stomach pushes up through the esophagus into the chest which causes a hiatal hernia. 

A small hiatal hernia doesn’t cause many problems but a large hernia can allow food and acid to back up into the esophagus leading to heartburn, shortness of breath, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing. 

How is hernia treated? 

A hernia is diagnosed through a physical examination where the doctor may check for a bulge on the body. Other ways to check for a hernia include the use of barium x-ray and endoscopy. To check for Umbilical hernia, ultrasound is used which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the structures inside the body.  

The treatment is based on the type and size of the hernia. The doctor monitors the hernia and suggests and provides the best option for the treatment. 

The common options available are:

Change in lifestyle: Several changes in lifestyle are recommended by the doctor such as avoiding heavy meals to maintain healthy body weight. Certain exercises are also used to strengthen the muscles in that area which can help to reduce some of the hernia symptoms. 

Lifestyle change option sometimes opts in the early stage of hernia and if these changes do not help in reducing the pain, then the doctor would perform surgery to correct the hernia. 

Medication: Some of the medication include - antacids, H-2 receptor blockers, and proton pump inhibitors. These medications can help the patient by reducing the discomfort caused by the hernia. 

Surgery: If the pain is intolerable or the hernia is growing larger, the doctor may perform the surgery to correct the hernia. Surgery is considered a safe option as the complications can be quite dangerous for the health if the hernia is left untreated for a long time. 

A Hernia can be repaired through open or laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery uses a tiny camera and some miniaturized equipments to correct to hernia. This surgery has a short recovery time than open surgery but has a higher chance of recurrence. 

Is it possible to prevent a hernia?

There are precautions to consider that can avoid a hernia. It’s not always possible to prevent the weak muscles that cause the hernia, but certain prevention tips can lower the chances of it happening. 

  • Maintain a healthy body weight
  • Avoid lifting things that are too heavy 
  • Check with a doctor immediately if you see the early signs of hernia
  • Take the required precautions to avoid getting a persistent cough

Tags: Types of hernia, Abdominal hernia symptoms female, Hernia surgery recovery time, Hernia treatment without surgery