A hernia occurs when an internal organ or tissue protrudes or pushes through a hole or weakened part of muscle. This most often occurs in the abdomen or groin.
At NYU Langone, our surgeons are experts in diagnosing and managing hernias in adults. If surgery is necessary, they use the latest and most effective surgical techniques.
Most hernias are external hernias. This means that the protrusion is toward the outside of the body and creates a bulge you can see. The protrusion in internal hernias remains inside the body. For instance, in a hiatal hernia, part of the stomach protrudes into the diaphragm, the opening to the esophagus.
Those at risk for a hernia include people who are overweight or obese, as well as those who have conditions that cause chronic coughing, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Constipation, which may make you strain during a bowel movement, can also cause a hernia, as can heavy lifting. Hernias also occur in children.
Rarely, people with external hernias experience nausea, pain, and vomiting, along with a swollen, tender, and discolored bulge. This may be a sign that part of the intestine is trapped in the hernia, a serious condition called a strangulated hernia that requires immediate medical attention. This is because blood supply to the intestine can be cut off, causing part of the organ to die. If you experience these symptoms, call 911 or go to the emergency department at the nearest hospital immediately.
The most common type of hernia is an inguinal hernia, which occurs when tissue or part of the small intestine extends through a weakened area in the groin or scrotum, causing a bulge. Nearly three-quarters of hernias are inguinal.
These types of hernias occur much more frequently in men than women. About one quarter of men experience an inguinal hernia in a lifetime.
Inguinal hernias can be caused by problems in the inguinal canals, from which a boy’s testicles descend before or after birth. When muscles in these two passages—one on each side of the lower abdomen—don’t close properly, the area can become weakened and lead to the development of a hernia.
Sometimes, inguinal hernias are not present at birth and instead develop over time. This may be caused by pressure from straining, such as for heavy lifting or constipation.
Symptoms include a bulge in the groin or scrotum that may or may not be painful, or a burning or “heavy” sensation in that area.
A hernia can appear suddenly after bending, coughing, laughing, or lifting weights or heavy items, or it can form slowly over weeks or months. Symptoms may improve when you lie down, relieving pressure on the area.
In an incisional hernia, an organ or tissue protrudes through an incision or scar from previous abdominal surgery, such as an appendectomy, in which the appendix is removed. This causes a bulge in the abdomen’s lining. Incisional hernias often happen within three to six months after an abdominal surgery.
This type of hernia can be caused by significant weight gain, pregnancy after abdominal surgery, or physical activity, such as heavy lifting. The bulge can cause pain, but it may not be visible until sudden pressure on the abdomen—such as from straining during a bowel movement, coughing, sneezing, or lifting heavy objects—occurs. Left untreated, this type of hernia can get larger.
In an umbilical hernia, part of the intestine or abdominal tissue protrudes through or near the navel, creating a bulge. It occurs when muscles near the belly button don’t close properly after birth, creating a weakness in the abdominal wall.
Though this type of hernia is most common in children, it can occur in adults who have conditions that create pressure in the abdomen, such as multiple pregnancies or obesity. Chronic cough or straining caused by constipation can also lead to this type of hernia. It may also occur in men who have difficulty urinating because of a prostate condition.