What Exactly Is a Hernia and Why Do So Many People Get Them?

May 21, 2024

A man sitting down and holding his stomach in painAnybody can get a hernia – at any age. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, researchers estimate that more than one out of every four men will develop an inguinal hernia (the most common kind) at some point in their lives. For women, that estimate is closer to just one out of every 34 women. So, what exactly is a hernia and how and why do so many people get them?

It all starts with your musculoskeletal system, which includes all of your body’s structural components – things like your bones, muscles and joints. A hernia typically occurs when there is a weak spot within your muscle wall, most often in the area of your abdomen. That weak spot expands and weakens further when an organ (usually the intestines) or fatty tissue pushes against the area. Imagine a tire that has developed a weak spot and the “bubble” that can develop at that spot. The bad news is, while hernias are a common condition, they can lead to increased discomfort over time and may even result in the need for emergency surgery if left untreated.

Overview: The different types of hernias

While inguinal hernias are the most common, there are several other variations. Below is a quick overview:

Inguinal Hernia: These occur when part of an organ or fatty tissue pokes through your abdominal wall or into the inguinal canal in the groin area. These are most common in men.

Hiatal Hernia: These occur when the upper part of the stomach pushes through the diaphragm into the chest cavity. They are often associated with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Umbilical Hernia: Seen mostly in infants, umbilical hernias occur when part of the intestine bulges through the abdominal wall near the belly button. These hernias can also affect adults, especially those who are overweight or have had multiple pregnancies.

Incisional Hernia: Developing through an incision site from a previous surgery, this hernia type underscores the importance of proper postoperative care.

Could you have a hernia?

Often there are no symptoms of a hernia, but if you feel pain when you lift heavy objects or while doing exercise, check to see if there is a bulge or swelling. Hiatal hernias have different symptoms, which can include acid reflux, regurgitation and difficulty swallowing.

If you suspect you may have a hernia, a medical professional can perform a physical exam to determine what is wrong. In certain cases, additional testing may be necessary to make a diagnosis.

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Know your treatment options

For newborns with umbilical hernias, there is a good chance it may heal on its own and surgery can be avoided. For other hernias, a doctor may be able to massage the hernia into place. But, if a hernia is stuck in the weakened area where it pushed through, surgery may be necessary to prevent strangulation of the organ or tissue. If that happens, it can lead to serious complications and could even be life-threatening.

Hernia Surgery Center of Excellence

South Texas Health System Edinburg is proud to have been named a Surgical Center of Excellence for minimally invasive hernia repairs using robotic-assisted surgery thanks, in part, to its two da Vinci® Xi® Surgical Systems. This advanced technology allows surgeons to perform some hernia repairs through small incisions. And while the da Vinci Surgical System is “robotic,” the surgeon is 100% in control.

Potential benefits for the patient

Robotic surgery has the potential to provide the following benefits:

  • Reduced pain and trauma to the body
  • Decreased risk of infection
  • Reduced loss of blood during the procedure
  • Less postoperative pain and discomfort
  • Shorter hospital stays
  • Quicker recovery times
  • Less scarring

Individual results may vary. There are risks associated with any surgical procedure. Talk with your doctor about these risks to find out if robotic surgery is right for you.