A hernia occurs when a piece of tissue bulges through an area of the body — usually a weak point in a person’s abdominal wall. Some hernias may cause few symptoms. Others can be a medical emergency.

Here we’ll discuss different areas in the body where hernias can occur, plus guide you to more in-depth articles about each hernia type.

The following are some of the most common hernia types that occur in the body.

An epigastric hernia is one that occurs in the epigastric region of the abdomen, which is located above the belly button and below the ribcage.

If you have an epigastric hernia, you may be able to feel it when there is pressure on the abdominal wall, such as when you cough, laugh, or bear down to have a bowel movement.

You may also have some pain or tenderness around where the hernia is.

A femoral hernia occurs when tissue pushes through a weak point in the groin or inner thigh. The hernia may feel like a small- to medium-sized lump in the groin.

An estimated 2 to 4 percent of all hernias that occur in the groin are femoral ones. Women experience femoral hernias more often than men.

A femoral hernia can be a cause for concern due to the femoral artery and vein being nearby. It’s possible the hernia could affect these blood vessels and block blood flow to and from the leg. Because of this, doctors almost always try to correct a femoral hernia with surgery.

A hiatal hernia is a condition that occurs when a person’s stomach bulges through a weak point in the diaphragm, a muscle that separates the lungs from the abdominal organs.

If you have a hiatal hernia, you’re more likely to have problems with acid reflux.

Some people are born with a hiatal hernia, while others develop one as they age.

Hiatal hernias are classified into types — from type I to IV — depending on where they are located.

An estimated 95 percent of hiatal hernias are type I: With these hernias, the stomach remains in position, yet the area where the esophagus meets the stomach slides above the diaphragm.

Read about exercising with a hiatal hernia.

An incisional hernia can occur after a person has stomach surgery, which usually involves an incision down the middle of the stomach. If the surgical wound doesn’t heal completely, that person can be more vulnerable to developing a hernia.

Some doctors may use the terms “ventral hernia” and “incisional hernia” interchangeably. A ventral hernia refers to any hernia type that occurs along the midline of the stomach. However, not all ventral hernias are incisional hernias.

Read about incisional hernias after cesarean delivery.

An inguinal hernia occurs when a portion of intestine or fat bulges through the lower stomach wall. The bulge usually goes through the inguinal canal, which is located in the groin area.

An inguinal hernia can contain a portion of the small intestine in some people and even parts of the female reproductive organs in some women.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, inguinal hernias usually occur on the right side. They’re also much more common in men: An estimated 27 percent of men and only 3 percent of women will develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetime.

Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a femoral and inguinal hernia. In men, an inguinal hernia can cause a bulge not only in the groin, but also in the scrotum.

Read more on inguinal hernia and repair.

Umbilical hernias are those in which tissues in the body bulge through an area of weakness in the belly button area (umbilicus). According to the American College of Surgeons, an estimated 10 percent of all hernias in the stomach are umbilical hernias.

This hernia type causes a visible bulge in or around the belly button that’s usually worse when you cough or strain when having a bowel movement.

Read about repair surgery for umbilical hernias.

Hernias can be dangerous because they can become strangulated or incarcerated.

An incarcerated hernia occurs when protruding tissue can’t be pushed back into place, putting constant pressure or discomfort on a person’s body.

A strangulated hernia is a medical emergency because the area bulging through loses blood supply.

Hernias don’t usually go away on their own, and if they progress to a strangulated hernia, they are a medical emergency.

As a result, some doctors will recommend surgical correction of a noticeable hernia to try to keep it from getting worse or causing an emergency situation.

Otherwise, they may recommend watching the hernia to make sure it can always fit back through the abdominal wall.

If a person has a known hernia and develops the following symptoms, they should seek immediate medical attention.

symptoms requiring medical ATTENTIOn

Seek immediate medical care if you have a hernia and experience the following symptoms:

  • constipation
  • fever
  • nausea
  • problems passing gas
  • sudden and severe pain at the hernia site
  • vomiting

Most people can’t prevent a hernia. They occur due to a combination of genetic and medical history. However, there are a few things you can try to prevent a hernia:

  • Maintain a healthy body weight, which puts less pressure on the abdominal wall.
  • Refrain from smoking.
  • Refrain from straining when lifting weights. Lifting too-heavy weights can also place excess stress on the abdominal wall.
  • Refrain from straining when passing a bowel movement. Eating a high-fiber diet and drinking plenty of water can help make stools easier to pass.

Hernia types can vary by location and symptoms. If you detect a hernia, talk to your primary care doctor. They may refer you to a specialist to assess the hernia.

If your doctor doesn’t recommend surgery, they will let you know what symptoms require emergency medical attention so you can be on the lookout for them.