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 information about each hernia type.

The following are some of the most common hernia types.

Epigastric hernia

An epigastric hernia occurs in the epigastric region of the abdomen, which is located above the belly button and below the rib cage. They are caused by a gap between the two sides of the abdominal muscles, which allows fat tissue to push through the abdomen.

About 2 to 3 percent of all abdominal hernias are epigastric hernias. Some babies are born with epigastric hernias. Other hernias develop in adults due to muscle weakness or straining.

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
  • bear down to have a bowel movement

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

Many epigastric hernias are small and don’t cause symptoms. Larger hernias that cause symptoms may require surgery.

Femoral hernia

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. This type of hernia is rare in children. Women experience femoral hernias more often than men due to the larger width of the female pelvis. They can sometimes be linked to straining during bowel movements or lifting heavy weights.

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 quickly correct a femoral hernia with surgery.

Hiatal hernia

A hiatal hernia is a condition that occurs when a person’s stomach bulges through a weak point in the diaphragm. This muscle plays an important role in breathing and separates the lungs from the abdominal organs.

If you have a hiatal hernia, symptoms may include heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

Doctors aren’t sure what causes hiatal hernias. They’re quite common in older adults and are most often seen in people who are:

  • over age 50
  • pregnant
  • overweight

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.

Most people only need treatment for hiatal hernias if they’re experiencing symptoms. This may involve treatments to reduce heartburn or surgery in more severe cases.

Read about exercising with a hiatal hernia.

Incisional hernia

An incisional hernia occurs after a person has stomach surgery. It 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.

About 15 to 20 percent of people who undergo abdominal surgery experience incisional hernias. Risk factors include:

  • undergoing emergency surgery
  • experiencing complications during or after surgery, including infection
  • having certain chronic conditions, including diabetes and kidney failure
  • having obesity
  • smoking
  • taking certain long-term medications, including steroids and immunosuppressants

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.

Doctors may take a watch-and-wait approach with smaller incisional hernias. Larger hernias may require surgery.

Inguinal hernia

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 or parts of the female reproductive organs.

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, inguinal hernias are a relatively common type of hernia in the groin region, usually on the right side. An estimated 27 percent of men and 3 percent of women will develop an inguinal hernia in their lifetime. They most often occur in children up to age 5 and adults from ages 75 to 80.

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

Inguinal hernias usually need to be repaired with surgery. That’s because there’s a risk that the hernia may contain parts of the small intestine that become stuck outside the abdominal wall. If blood flow is cut off, this can lead to intestinal obstruction and potentially death.

Read more on inguinal hernia and repair.

Umbilical hernia

Umbilical hernias are those in which tissues in the body bulge through an area of weakness in the belly button area (umbilicus). 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.

According to the American College of Surgeons, an estimated 10 percent of all hernias in the abdominal area in adults are umbilical hernias. They usually happen when muscles weaken with age.

Umbilical hernias are especially common in babies under 6 months old, occurring in about 20 percent of infants. It occurs when the muscles surrounding the umbilical cord don’t close after birth. They usually repair themselves by the time a child is 4 to 5 years old.

Most umbilical hernias aren’t painful and don’t cause problems. They may require surgery if they don’t go away on their own or cause symptoms.

Read about repair surgery for umbilical hernias.

Most hernias don’t go away on their own. If it’s small and doesn’t cause symptoms, doctors will often watch a hernia to make sure it can always fit back through the abdominal wall. Larger hernias and those that cause symptoms may require surgery.

Some 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.

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.

If a person develops the symptoms of a strangulated hernia, they should seek immediate medical attention.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience the following symptoms, which may indicate a hernia is strangulated:

  • A hernia appears to get larger, looks swollen, or is hard.
  • You can’t push a hernia back in.
  • The skin around the hernia is red.
  • You have sharp, increasing pain at the hernia site, especially if it’s accompanied by nausea or vomiting.
  • You have a fever.

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 your weight to avoid pressure on the abdominal wall.
  • Try to quit smoking if you currently smoke.
  • Refrain from straining when lifting weights, especially after you’ve had abdominal surgery. Lifting heavy weights can 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 reduce constipation and 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 watch for them.