What is a hernia?

The body’s organs are surrounded by a wall made from muscle tissue, which acts like a corset and keeps everything in place. However, sometimes it can become weakened, through continual pressure such as vigorous exercise or heavy lifting for instance. A hernia is the protrusion of an internal part of the body (such as an organ) through a weak point in this surrounding tissue. This usually occurs in the abdominal area and is called an inguinal hernia.
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An inguinal hernia occurs when a part of the bowel (intestine) pokes through the lower abdomen into the groin (the area where the thigh meets the abdomen), causing a lump to appear on the surface of the skin.

The NHS points out other types of hernia, including:

  • Umbilical – this occurs when fatty tissue or a part of the bowel protrudes through the abdomen near the belly button.
  • Hiatus – caused by a part of the stomach pushing up into the chest by squeezing through an opening in the diaphragm (the sheet of muscle which separates the chest from the abdomen).
  • Spigelian – when the bowel pokes through the abdomen at the side of stomach muscles below the navel.
  • Femoral – a part of the bowel or fatty tissue protrudes through into the groin.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of a hernia can be minor or very severe if so-called strangulation occurs. This is when the organ becomes trapped in the hole it is protruding from and blood supply to it is cut off.

When the hernia first occurs, the sufferer may have a little pain and feel like something has given way, the BBC states. The pain wears off and a painless lump appears. This may sporadically disappear as the organ slips back into place and may increase in size during strenuos activity such as lifting or coughing.

In the case of strangulation, emergency surgery is required.

How is it treated?

Hernias are routinely treated through surgery. This can either be in the form of keyhole or open surgery, during which the doctor pushes the organ back into place and seals the tear in the tissue with mesh to prevent it from slipping out again.

Although the surgery does not guarantee that another hernia won’t occur in the future, it is a fairly straighforward procedure and the patient is usually allowed to go home the same day.

How common are hernias?

Over the process of their lifetime, around 1 in 4 of all men and 3 in 100 of women are likely to experience an inguinal hernia, the NHS estimates.

One celebrity who has suffered a hernia recently is American baseball star Manny Ramirez.

Images: Wikipedia Germany and Wikimedia Commons

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