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Diagnosing Hernia

Doctors at NYU Langone are experts in diagnosing hernias, which are common in men, women, and children. There are many types of hernias, all of which cause the inner lining of the abdomen to push through weakened areas or holes in abdominal muscle or the groin, forming a sac that can contain parts of the intestine or other tissue.

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Causes of hernia include obesity, pregnancy, or prior abdominal surgery. Sometimes, people are born with a hernia, but symptoms don’t appear until adulthood. Hernias can be triggered by heavy lifting, or by straining due to constipation or problems with urination.

The symptoms of a hernia may include pain or a bulge in the abdomen, groin, or scrotum, as well as a burning or heavy sensation. Sometimes, symptoms improve when you’re lying down.

Doctors at NYU Langone typically diagnose a hernia by taking a medical history and performing a physical exam. Sometimes, imaging tests are used to help doctors diagnose a hernia, particularly when the bulge is small or when symptoms can be confused with other conditions, such as endometriosis in women or kidney stones.

CT Scans

Your doctor may order a CT scan to check for conditions that can cause abdominal pain and swelling, such as appendicitis, which is an inflammation of the appendix.

This procedure uses X-rays to create images of the abdomen and its organs. Sometimes, you are given a contrast dye intravenously, through a vein in your arm, before the test. This helps to make the organs more visible on the images. The dye leaves the body hours later in the urine.

MRI Scans

Your doctor may recommend an MRI scan, particularly if your pain gets worse when you exercise. This is because, in some people, participation in sports can cause a hernia that has no visible bulge initially. An MRI scan can detect a tear in the abdominal muscles.

In MRI, radio waves and a magnetic field create images of abdominal organs and other structures. Sometimes, a contrast dye is injected into a vein in the arm to make the organs more visible on the images.


Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound if you are a woman of childbearing age. This test allows doctors to check for other pelvic conditions, such as ovarian cysts or fibroids, that can cause abdominal pain.

This test uses sound waves to create images of the abdomen and pelvic organs. A handheld device called a transducer is placed on the abdomen, sending images to a computer screen to be viewed.

Our Research and Education in Hernia

Learn more about our research and professional education opportunities.