Most of us probably know someone who has suffered from a hernia. This disorder of the digestive system is relatively common, especially in men. Yet, many people don’t know much about hernia symptoms and treatment until they are hearing the diagnosis from their doctors. Learning about the risk factors and treatment options is a positive step.
What Causes Hernia?
The telltale sign of a hernia is a bulge in the groin area—typically where the top of the leg meets the trunk. If your abdominal wall is weak or contains larger than normal openings, part of the intestine can come through, creating the hernia bulge. Hernias can be painful, especially when you stand for long periods, cough or lift heavy objects.
Hernias occur 10 times more often in men than in women due to the way the male body develops in the womb. If a hernia is not the result of a pre-existing weakness in the abdominal wall, it is likely due to muscle weakness that comes with age, heavy lifting, or repetitive coughing due to illness or years of smoking.
In women, hernias may occur when tissue from the uterus attaches to the pubic bone. Pregnancy may also cause hernias due to extra pressure on the abdomen. For both men and women, excess weight can lead to a hernia, as well as straining during bowel movements and chronic coughing. Your family history is another risk factor for hernias. If your parent or sibling has had one, you are more likely to suffer from this condition. If you have already had a hernia, your risk also increases.
Diagnosis and Treatment
In most cases, hernias must be treated surgically. If left alone, they often grow larger and lead to complications by obstructing the bowel or diminishing blood flow to the bowel tissue. If you have a bulge in the groin area and/or feel pain when you cough or lift, see a doctor to confirm your suspicion of hernia. Each case must be considered individually, so only a doctor can determine the best course of action.
Often, diagnosing a hernia requires a simple physical exam. Once the doctor locates the hernia and determines how it is affecting your body, he or she will decide whether or not to go ahead with surgery. If it is not painful or bothersome, your doctor may wait and see how your condition develops. If surgery is required, there are two main options.
Today, hernia surgeries generally do not require large incisions and long recovery periods. If your doctor performs a herniorrhaphy, you will be encouraged to move about as soon as possible and gain full mobility in four to six weeks. In this procedure, an incision is made in the groin so the intestine can be pushed back into place and the weakened abdominal wall can be repaired.
A hernioplasty, on the other hand, may be performed laparoscopically, meaning several small incisions are made and the surgeon uses a miniature camera to help him place sutures over the damaged area. This second method has a quicker recovery time and is often used for people who have had other surgeries in the area. The drawback is that hernias may be more likely to recur than they would after herniorrhaphy.
If you suspect you suffer from a hernia or want to prevent future recurrences, follow a few simple steps to reduce your risk. If you stand for long periods at your job, take frequent breaks. Avoid heavy lifting and always push through your legs, rather than letting your back do all the work. Aim to reach a healthy weight to take strain off your abdomen, and if you smoke, try to quit. All of these healthy steps will reduce your hernia risk and improve health in the long run.